Brushing the bacteria from your teeth with a toothbrush will leave your mouth feeling fresh and clean. But have you ever wondered what happens to the bacteria? Does it disintegrate in your mouth? Does it stay on your brush? Since the oral cavity is home to hundreds of different types of microorganisms, it is not surprising that some of these microorganisms are transferred to the brush during use. Also other microorganisms present in the environment where the toothbrush is stored can establish themselves on the brush. Since brushes are not required to be sold in sterile packages, bacteria may already be present before the initial use.
However, the body is normally able to defend itself against infections through a combination of passive and active mechanisms. The gum tissue functions as a passive barrier to bacteria and other organisms. White blood cells, enzymes, antibodies and digestive acids play an active part to protect the body from diseases.
Various microorganisms can grow on toothbrushes after use. However, The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and the ADA (American Dental Association) have found that brushing with a contaminated toothbrush has not led to a recontamination of a user’s mouth, oral infection or other adverse health effects.
However, the ADA and the Council on Scientific Affairs has provided these general recommendations for toothbrush care:
- Do not share toothbrushes. By sharing a brush, microorganisms and/or body fluids can be exchanged, resulting in a possible increased risk for infections, especially if one of the users has a compromised immune condition or has an existing infectious disease.
- Thoroughly rinse the brush with tap water after brushing to remove toothpaste and debris. Store the brush in an upright position to allow air-drying. Also do not allow toothbrushes to touch each other to prevent cross-contamination.
- Do not routinely cover the brush or store in closed containers. A wet environment is more likely to promote the growth of microorganisms than open air.
- Replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months since a toothbrush is often worn before they look worn. When the brush is worn, cleaning effectiveness is compromised and frayed bristles may inadvertently puncture the gums. A child’s brush should be replaced more often as they will chew or bite on the bristles. Also someone undergoing orthodontic treatment should change brushes often since the braces can break down the bristles quickly. Replacement is a good idea after an illness.
Since changing a toothbrush regularly is important to good oral health, Dr. Wilcox provides a new brush, floss and toothpaste to each patient after a cleaning appointment. The average American replaces a toothbrush 1.9 times a year. Since a new toothbrush is 30% more effective at removing plaque, doesn’t it make sense to change brushes more often?
Should toothbrushes be sterilized?