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A Clean Toothbrush Can Be A Hedge Against Cold and Flu Germs

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A Clean Toothbrush and Colds and Flu

A Clean Toothbrush Can Be A Hedge Against Cold and Flu Germs

January 04, 2007
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1

In the winter we button up our coats and don our hats to ward off colds and flu. Many of us even wash our hands using plenty of friction for 15 seconds after using the bathroom as well as first thing upon returning home from being out in public.
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Tips to protect your toothbrush from bacteria, adapted from the American Academy of Periodontology:
  • Wash your hands before and after brushing.
  • Allow the brush to air dry after each use.
  • Store the toothbrush in an upright position to promote drying.
  • Replace it every three to four months or sooner, if the bristles appear worn or if you’ve had a cold or flu.
  • Avoid sharing toothbrushes, routinely covering brushes or storing in closed containers.
  • Try not to use community toothbrush holders or touch the toothpaste tube to your brush.


  • Yet, when it comes to our toothbrushes, we tend to lapse into germ-laden lands that would horrify us if we glimpsed conditions through a microscope. Michael P. Rethman, DDS, MS, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology, says a peering into the microscope isn’t necessary to grasp the full import of how toothbrushes can spread germs.

    “In addition to daily wear and tear a toothbrush goes through, over time it can become contaminated with bacteria, blood, saliva, and toothpaste,” Rethman said. “Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is unaware of any adverse health effects directly related to toothbrush use, CDC’s recommendation is to rinse the toothbrush thoroughly with water following brushing and to tap off excess water.”

    Indeed, moist environments have long been known as ideal places for germs to grow. Thus, it is important to allow your toothbrush to dry in between uses. A hearty tap works wonders to rid the brush of excess moisture, as does storing the brush in a position that will help it dry thoroughly prior to the next brushing. The idea is that germs will die once they are exposed to oxygen.

    The American Dental Association (ADA) notes that the oral cavity is home to hundreds of different types of germs and that several studies have looked at the role of toothbrushes in the spread of disease. “It’s not surprising that some of these microorganisms are transferred to a toothbrush during use,” says the ADA. “It may also be possible for microorganisms that are present in the environment where the toothbrush is stored to establish themselves on the brush.”

    Like us, you’re probably wondering if there’s a way to thoroughly clean a toothbrush. Possibly but not certainly, says the ADA. “There is no evidence that soaking a toothbrush in an antibacterial mouth rinse or using a commercially available toothbrush sanitizer has any positive or negative effect on oral or systemic health. Some toothbrush cleaning methods, including the use of a dishwasher or microwave oven, could damage the brush.”

    Since several toothbrush sanitizers are on the market, the ADA adds that consumers should look for products cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To sanitize normally means that bacteria are reduced by 99.9 percent, and thus sanitizer manufacturers making this claim must demonstrate to the FDA that their product accomplishes this. The ADA cautions, however, that sanitizing does not eliminate all germs. The process of sterilization does eliminate germs but is reserved for surgical instruments and the like.

    Consequently, instead of sanitizers, Lawrence Hill, DDS, who runs a dental clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio, suggests that simply replacing toothbrushes more often can eliminate concerns about disease transmission.

    “Toothbrushes are not really expensive, and it’s our feeling toothbrushes should be replaced on a regular basis.” While sanitizing brushes is fine, he doesn’t think it is necessary. “It’s probably just as cost-effective to buy a new toothbrush,” Hill said.

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