Toothbrushes Harbor Hidden Germs During Cold and Flu Season

Dec. 13, 2001
Best defense? Go undercover!

You wouldn't think of sharing your toothbrush. Not even with a family member. But it takes more than sole proprietorship to avoid partnering infection, reports the Academy of General Dentistry.

Toothbrushes can become heavily contaminated with oral microorganisms. Because most families store toothbrushes in a common storage space, airborne bacteria can move from toothbrush to toothbrush, passing opportunistic infections such as periodontal disease and the common cold from one person to another.

Your best defense is to go undercover. "The easiest way to protect your toothbrush is by using a toothbrush cover," advises Howard S. Glazer, DDS, FAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.

Splattering water, contact with skin, and toothbrushes knocking against one another are all circumstances that contribute to the spread of bacteria. Dr. Glazer recommends rinsing bristles thoroughly, then shaking any extra moisture from the brush and storing it upright before placing a cover over the toothbrush head.

Studies also show a link between self-contaminated toothbrushes and oral inflammatory diseases. Bacteria from food particles and contact with the skin are unavoidable consequences of daily brushing. Dr. Glazer says people should wash their hands both before and after brushing, and soak unused brushes in an antiseptic mouthwash.

Having more than one toothbrush makes this process a lot more practical. "The bathroom is usually the most contaminated room in the house," says Dr. Glazer. "Protect yourself by protecting your toothbrush."

If you: Try:

1. Use a community toothbrush holder 1. Using a toothbrush cover to prevent contamination

2. Lay toothbrush flat in the cabinet 2. Storing upright. This position helps drain water and dry the brush faster

3. Store toothbrushes on the bathroom counter 3. Moving away from the sink and toilet to prevent airborne contamination

4. Catch a cold or virus 4. Tossing out the toothbrush and replacing it. Bacteria often lingers and can serve to lengthen illness

The Academy has fact sheets titled Brushing and Tooth Decay to help consumers learn more about proper oral hygiene habits. Consumers can get names, address and phone numbers of up to three general dentists, by calling 877/2X-A-YEAR or by visiting the Academy's Web site AGD Consumer Information section