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Does Your Toothbrush Make You Sick?

Family Toothbrushes Making Contact in A Cup

What is going on in that family toothbrush cup that you set your toothbrush in everyday?   The toothbrush goes into your mouth where there are millions of bacteria and viruses (microorganisms) that could make you or others sick.  Let’s say for example your 6 year old son has strep throat and not on antibiotics yet and you have a cup on the sink or in the medicine cabinet that you keep all the family tooth brushes in.  Now lets say the toothbrush heads and bristles sometimes make contact – what happens now is what I like to call “germ creep”.  The son’s toothbrush bristles with Streptococcus bacteria on it touches another sibling’s toothbrush bristles and those Streptococcus bacteria just cross over (creep) from one toothbrush to the other with the ability to make you sick.  Bacteria just don’t sit there – they breed – they multiply!  Now you may have two children sick with strep throat.

The solution is simple.  Buy a toothbrush holder that has enough separation space between the toothbrush heads so that they won’t touch one another.  Perhaps buy two, one for adults, one for children.

Now for something else that happens in the bathroom – unnoticed.  There is something called “toilet spray” – yes that sounds really, really gross, but something you should think about.  When a toilet is flushed there is a very fine “toilet spray” that goes into the surrounding air – so keep those toothbrushes as far away from the toilet as possible.  It may also help deter some of the spray if you put the lid down before flushing.  There is also toilet water evaporation – so make sure everyone flushes the toilets and you aren’t left with any surprises – young children are good at this.  You might think that the solution to this problem is putting the toothbrushes in sealed containers – nope – bacteria and viruses love darkness and dampness, so enclosing the toothbrush in a sealed container just gives these nasty germs and perhaps even mold, a perfect environment to grow.  A good place to keep your family toothbrushes is in a toothbrush holder – in an upright position with the toothbrush head up and with plenty of space between the heads and let it air-dry.  Among the many types of bacteria found on toothbrushes are Strep, Staph and E. Coli (think toilet spray & toilet water evaporation).  The flu virus and herpes simplex l  (the type that cause cold sores) are just a sampling of viruses found on toothbrushes.

If you have strep or other bacterial infection that lives in the mouth, get a new toothbrush after you are no longer contagious, usually 24-48 hours after you start antibiotics and the fever is gone and BEFORE the antibiotics are gone.

Toothbrushes should always be thoroughly rinsed after use by holding them under running water.  There are food particles, toothpaste, saliva, bacteria, viruses and sometimes even blood on the bristles.  The water does not kill the germs, it helps to flush them off.  There has been long running discussions about whether or not to disinfect your toothbrush. Research in, (US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health) suggests that there are ways to help disinfect your toothbrush if you wish to do so once or twice a week.  You can put a toothbrush in a microwave for 1 minute, no longer or it could melt or get deformed.  (“microwave irradiation proved to be an effective alternate method to the disinfection of…toothbrushes”. Int J Dent Hyg, 2/20/11) or you can soak your toothbrush in a product called Periogard Oral Rinse (Colgate Palmolive) for  2 hours which is considered effective, safe and cost effective, (I would rinse the toothbrush after soaking).  This is a product that contains Chlorhexidine which is an antimicrobial.  Studies have shown that children’s toothbrushes can have a high concentration of Streptococcus bacteria, so make sure children never share toothbrushes.  Also, if your child is in a daycare facility and they allow toothbrushes check to be sure they are stored properly so there is no cross-contamination.

How often should you replace your toothbrush?  The ADA, American Dental Association recommends getting a new toothbrush every 3 to 4 months so you have good bristles to clean the teeth.  Also, I recommend rinsing a new toothbrush before you use it for the first time because the packaging the toothbrush comes in is not sterile.


  • Wash the hands before  handling the toothpaste.  Everyone in the family touches the tube of toothpaste one or more times a day – if someone is coming down with an illness or is already sick those germs can be put on the tube of toothpaste and then transferred to the hands of the next person who brushes their teeth.
  • Never use the toilet paper in the stalls of public restrooms to blow your nose – remember the toilet spray
  • Ladies – don’t put your purse on the public restroom floor – remember the toilet spray
  • Never put your purse on a kitchen counter, kitchen table or anywhere you would have food – remember the floors it has sat on – public restrooms, restaurants, doctor’s waiting room floors, etc. A microbiologist indicates 1 out of 4 purses have E.Coli on the bottom of them (we are back to those public restroom floors again)
  • Wipe the bottom of your purse with a disinfectant wipe frequently
  • Don’t let the kids put their shoes on the kitchen table or counters – remember where the bottom of those shoes have been i.e., public restrooms
  • It would be helpful if you are a caregiver to an elderly member of your family to check out how they store their toothbrushes too – you could help them avoid a stay in the hospital.  Untreated Streptococcus can spread to the sinuses, tonsils, blood and middle ear.  It can damage the heart valves, cause kidney inflammation, Rheumatic Fever and Scarlet Fever.

A GOOD TO KNOW TIP for Hospitalization:  Research done by Washington University at St. Louis indicates that when ICU patients brush their teeth twice a day (or their nurses do it for them) and use a mouth rinse, that the rate of ventilator associated pneumonia can drop by almost 50 per cent.

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