Most family dentists will remind you that toothbrushes are your first line of defense against poor dental health, but can they cause problems as well?
The average toothbrush has over 25,000 bristles in 40 tufts, and each of those bristles can harbor bacteria if not cared for properly. The oral cavity plays host to hundreds of microorganisms, so transferring some of them to a toothbrush is unavoidable. Bacteria may also find its way onto a toothbrush depending on where it’s stored or how well it was packaged.
Generally, your body can protect itself against microbe infection using a combination of passive mechanisms like skin and mucus membranes and active mechanisms like enzymes, acids and white blood cells.
Studies show that microorganisms can indeed grow on toothbrushes, and other studies have revealed methods to prevent bacteria growth, like rinsing brushes in hot water after use and storing them in an upright position to dry. They can also be soaked in antibacterial mouth rinses.
Family dental care professionals usually advise patients to replace their toothbrushes every three to four months and never share them, especially since so many diseases can be passed through body fluids. Covering toothbrushes or storing them in closed containers is conducive to microorganism growth and should be avoided.
Though all of these are good practices to avoid costly cosmetic dental work or illness, there’s no definitive clinical proof that bacterial growth on toothbrushes leads to poor oral or bodily health, and cleaning them beyond the outlined steps is not recommended or even proven to make a difference.
Exceptions include people with systemic diseases that can be transmitted in blood or saliva and people with compromised immune systems. In these cases, toothbrush bacteria can do much more harm. Throw away toothbrushes after being sick and clean and store toothbrushes with the utmost care.
Everyone has unique teeth, and some people may be more susceptible to bacteria that results in costly cosmetic dental work like full dental implants and dentures. However, don’t let fear of bacteria keep you from brushing your teeth, since lack of oral hygiene will only lead to more complex cosmetic dental work. Keep your brush clean and keep brushing, and you’ll be fine!