- Gary M. Verigin, DDS, inc. - https://biologicaldentalhealth.com -

Your Toothbrush’s Dirty Little Secret

brushes [1]Maybe you saw the segment [2] on Oprah a few years back. Or the one [3] on Mythbusters. If so, you may have been freaked out by the thought of your toothbrush being a festering swamp of fecal matter and bacteria.

But that’s TV. Can you trust it? A new literature review [4] in Evidence Based Dentistry says yes, your toothbrush could become the next superfund site.

All of the studies examined toothbrush contamination and found significant bacterial retention and survival on toothbrushes after use. A number of decontamination techniques were studied and a range of active agents reduced bacterial load. Closed storage containers generally increased bacterial load or survival times. Toothbrush design was also seen to have varying impact on bacterial load.

What kind of microbes [5] are we talking about? Staph, strep and lactobacillus are most common, with the latter two playing a big role in tooth decay. Other pathogens, such as E. coli and Prevotella, may be present, as well, along with the fungus Candida.

Some of this is just because our mouths are germy places, crawling with microbes – both helpful and harmful – and these can transfer to a toothbrush where they can survive (and multiply) for up to 6 hours after you brush. They can also transfer from one brush to another if they’re stored close enough together to sometimes touch.

brushing [6]Then there are bathroom conditions. No matter how much you clean (or don’t, for that matter), your privy provides an excellent microbial breeding ground. Moisture, warmth and airflow all play a part.

Yet another culprit is the quiet fella in the corner: your toilet. Considering what goes in it, is there any surprise that bacteria are present? And it likes to share its bounty. Every time you flush with the lid up, the water’s action creates a plume of mist and microbes that are cast into the air and spread out like a mini-mushroom cloud.

BUT I HAVE TO BRUSH! you cry. What do I do?

That said, disinfecting your brush helps your peace of mind than your health. We’re constantly exposed to all sorts of pathogens [7] every day just by breathing (more than a few hundred thousand viruses each minute). Your natural defense systems, guided by the biological terrain, are more than sufficient to deal with the vast majority of harmful microbes your toothbrush exposes you to.

That, however, doesn’t make for very interesting TV.

Images by data smog [8] & bark [9], via Flickr