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Toothbrushes: When to Replace Them, Where to Keep Them

This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

The Ugly Truth About Your Toothbrush

Do you know what’s lurking on your toothbrush?

Your toothbrush is loaded with germs, say researchers at England’s
University of Manchester. They’ve found that one uncovered toothbrush can
harbor more than 100 million bacteria, including E. coli bacteria, which
can cause diarrhea, and staphylococci (“Staph”) bacteria that cause skin

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Teeth

You use your teeth to talk, chew, and smile. But here are some other “teeth
facts” you probably didn’t know about your pearly whites.

Read the 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Teeth article

But don’t panic. Your mouth wasn’t exactly sterile to begin with.

Mouthful of Bacteria

“The bottom line is, there [are] hundreds of microorganisms in our mouths
every day,” says Gayle McCombs, RDH, MS, associate professor and director of
the Dental Hygiene Research Center at Old Dominion University.

That’s no big deal. Problems only start when there is an unhealthy balance
of bacteria in the mouth. McCombs says.

“It’s important to remember that plaque — the stuff you’re removing from
your teeth — is bacteria,” says dentist Kimberly Harms, DDS, consumer advisor
for the American Dental Association. “So you’re putting bacteria on your
toothbrush every time you brush your teeth.”

Could Your Toothbrush Be Making You Sick?

Probably not. Regardless of how many bacteria live in your mouth, or have
gotten in there via your toothbrush, your body’s natural defenses make it
highly unlikely that you’re going to catch an infection simply from brushing
your teeth.

“Fortunately, the human body is usually able to defend itself from
bacteria,” Harms says. “So we aren’t aware of any real evidence that sitting
the toothbrush in your bathroom in the toothbrush holder is causing any real
damage or harm. We don’t know that the bacteria on there are translating into

Still, you should exercise some common sense about storing your toothbrush,
including how close it is to the toilet.

Don’t Brush Where You Flush

Most bathrooms are small. And in many homes, the toilet is pretty close to
the bathroom sink where you keep your toothbrush.

Every toilet flush sends a spray of bacteria into the air. And you
don’t want the toilet spray anywhere near your open toothbrush.

“You don’t store your plates and glasses by the toilet, so why would you
want to place your toothbrush there?” McCombs says. “It’s just common sense to
store your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as possible.”

You also wouldn’t eat after going to the bathroom without first washing your
hands. The same advice applies before brushing your teeth, McCombs says.

Toothbrush Storage Tips

Once you’ve moved your toothbrush away from the toilet, here are a few other
storage tips to keep your brush as germ-free as possible:

  • Keep it rinsed. Wash off your toothbrush thoroughly with tap water
    every time you use it.
  • Keep it dry. “Bacteria love a moist environment,” Harms says. Make
    sure your brush has a chance to dry thoroughly between brushings. Avoid using
    toothbrush covers, which can create a moist enclosed breeding ground for
  • Keep it upright. Store your toothbrush upright in a holder, rather
    than lying it down.
  • Keep it to yourself. No matter how close you are to your sister,
    brother, spouse, or roommate, don’t ever use their toothbrush. Don’t even store
    your toothbrush side-by-side in the same cup with other people’s brushes.
    Whenever toothbrushes touch, they can swap germs.


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