How Clean Is Your Toothbrush?

instruments in a doctor's office

It’s a toothbrush’s job to keep your mouth clean. But if you’re not careful, your toothbrush could become home to tons of nasty germs. And any bacteria or fungi that live on your toothbrush can transfer to your mouth as well.

“Many people don’t realize that their habits are adding to the amount of bacteria growing on their toothbrushes,” says Alice Boghosian, DDS, an American Dental Association spokesperson and a dentist practicing in Niles, Ill. Luckily, keeping your mouth and toothbrush free from illness-causing germs is as easy as following a few simple steps.  

Rinse Thoroughly

Take a look at your toothbrush right now: If you can see any toothpaste buildup on it, you’re not doing a good enough job rinsing it. Boghosian says you should hold your toothbrush under running water after you use it, and keep it there long enough to completely remove all toothpaste and debris. Another type of rinsing can also help keep your toothbrush clean: Swish with an antimicrobial mouthwash before brushing, and you’ll expose your toothbrush to fewer germs, all while getting your mouth clean.

Store It in a Dry Place

Since any type of moisture on your brush will promote bacterial growth, it needs to dry completely between uses to stay germ-free. If your toothbrush sits in a travel case or in your medicine cabinet, remove it ASAP.

“If you store your toothbrush in a closed cabinet, that doesn’t allow air to circulate,” Boghosian says. Store your brush upright instead of lying down, so that more air can circulate around it. This will help it dry faster. And definitely don’t use a toothbrush case or cover.

Also, avoid storing it in the same cup as other people’s toothbrushes. “If you put it in a cup with four other toothbrushes, there’s a strong possibility of cross-contamination,” says Boghosian. You can catch colds, bacterial infections like strep throat or even a blood-borne disease such as Hepatitis B or C from someone else's toothbrush.

Don’t Flush Where You Brush

Put the toilet seat cover down before you flush -- and encourage everyone in your household to do the same. Contaminated spray from each flush can reach anywhere from 6 to 8 feet. And anything within that vicinity could get covered in fecal matter, Boghosian says. We’re thinking the same thing you are right now: gross!

Don’t Share

This should go without saying, but whenever you share toothbrushes with someone, you expose yourself to all of the bacteria in his or her mouth. Since you don’t know what kinds of germs they’re harboring, investing in your own brush is an easy way to decrease your odds of picking up an illness from them.

Don’t Use the Dishwasher (Or Microwave)

Because toothbrush manufacturers don’t design them to withstand either of these appliances, you may damage your brush and compromise its effectiveness by doing either in an attempt to clean your toothbrush. Products or rinses that are specifically designed to sterilize brushes won’t hurt, but they won’t necessarily help either.

“There’s really no clinical evidence that shows these sanitizers work or don’t work,” Boghosian says. “If that makes you feel better and makes you want to brush your teeth, then do it, but from a scientifically based standpoint, there’s no evidence of them being good or bad.”

Replace Your Toothbrush on Time

Finally, replace your toothbrush every three or four months, visit the dentist every six months, and floss daily. “Keep your mouth and body as healthy as possible,” Boghosian says. “That will affect the type and number of bugs that grow on your toothbrush.” And more importantly, it will help keep your mouth free from germs as well.