How to Disinfect Your Toothbrush Properly & Why It Matters

How to Disinfect Your Toothbrush Properly & Why It Matters
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How to Disinfect Your Toothbrush Properly & Why It MattersClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Why Do You Need to Disinfect Your Toothbrush?
  2. How Often Should You Disinfect?
  3. How to Disinfect Your Toothbrush
  4. Keeping Your Brush Clean
  5. Disinfecting vs. Changing out Toothbrush
  6. References

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth twice a day to achieve optimal oral health. This makes your toothbrush the No. 1 tool you have to keep healthy, clean teeth, to ward off bad breath and to stave off dental decay.

And yet: did you know the toothbrush can harbor germs? In most cases, bacteria and food particles from the mouth are responsible for the contamination of toothbrushes. But storing your toothbrush in pathogen-laden places like the bathroom can also attract germs.

Just like you replace your toothbrush regularly, after every few months, you need to clean or disinfect the brush routinely.

Why Do You Need to Disinfect Your Toothbrush?

The mouth contains millions of bacteria, the majority being beneficial. After meals, food particles are likely to accumulate in the oral cavity and promote the overgrowth of both friendly and harmful organisms. That’s why ADA recommends brushing two times a day with fluoride toothpaste.

However, the bacteria can be transferred to the toothbrush and act as a source of infection. Gingivitis, periodontal disease and oral thrush are some conditions that can result from poor toothbrush hygiene.

To begin with, most toothbrushes don’t come in sterile packaging. The chances of exposure to germs even before you began using yours is, therefore, relatively high.

Pathogens from the air can also infect your toothbrush. For instance, many people store their brushes in the bathroom for convenience. Multiple bacteria that usually linger in the air in such an area due to the toilet plume phenomenon then settle on the toothbrush and predispose you to dental infections.

How Often Should You Disinfect Your Toothbrush?

Whether you’re using a manual or electric toothbrush, you need to thoroughly rinse the brush head with tap water after every use. This removes most of the food particles, plaque, and bacteria. To remove even the few germs or debris that might remain after rinsing, disinfect your toothbrush at least once a week. When you’ve got a cold or flu, consider cleaning your toothbrush even more frequently.

Disinfection doesn’t mean you use one brush for more than the recommended period. So have a stock of replacement brushes and deploy a new one every three to four months.

Disinfecting Your Toothbrush

There are several ways of cleaning a toothbrush and some are more effective than others. Whether you dropped the brush and quickly picked it up or it’s visibly dirty, you can use hot water, an antibacterial mouthwash, denture cleanser or a UV sanitizer as a cleaner.

Hot Water

Hot water disinfection is the most basic method of cleaning your toothbrush. Either run hot water over the toothbrush bristles before and after every use or soak the brush in boiled water. Steaming water removes nearly all the bacteria that hides between strands after use. You should run water over the brush head before applying the toothpaste.

You can also use the 10-minute treatment in which you boil water and soak the brush for about 10 minutes. Don’t boil the toothbrush as the handle can begin to melt.

Antibacterial Mouthwash

Soaking your toothbrush in an antibacterial mouthwash is likely to get rid of more bacteria compared to hot water. Notably, these solutions contain harsh chemicals that might make the bristles weaker and wear out faster.

Pour the mouthwash into a small cup, then place the toothbrush into the solution with the head facing down. Let it stand for approximately 2 minutes.

Denture Cleanser
Denture cleansing solution contains ingredients that kill bacteria and remove plaque from the mouth. You can also use it to disinfect toothbrushes. Just dissolve half of the cleansing tablet in a glass of cold water, then soak your brush in the solution for about 2 minutes. Don’t reuse the solution you had used to clean your dentures.
Ultraviolet (UV) Light Sanitizer

While UV sanitizer is the most effective method of disinfecting your toothbrush in this list, it’s the most expensive. Because of cost, UV sanitation is primarily employed in hospitals, dental offices and laboratories.

If the other methods do not give you satisfactory results, you can invest in a UV sanitizer specially designed for toothbrushes. For the best outcome, follow the manufacturer’s guide. Noteworthy, you don’t need a UV chamber to maintain optimum oral and toothbrush hygiene.

Soaking your toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide or vinegar for a few minutes is also an effective way of removing bacteria.

Keeping Your Brush Clean

After disinfecting your toothbrush, you need to store it appropriately to keep it clean. Place the brush in an upright position and let it air-dry. The majority of bacteria that can accumulate on the brush are anaerobic, and when they’re exposed to oxygen in the air, they will die.

Avoid storing the brush in closed containers or moisturized places that promote bacterial growth. However, the storage area should not be near the toilet to prevent contamination by aerosolizing fecal matter following flushing. You could also close the toilet lid before flushing to avoid toilet plumes.

Keeping multiple brushes in close contact might also contribute to the spread of germs. Avoid storing family brushes in the same container or drawers.

For travelers, please don’t return the brush to its case until it’s completely dry.

Disinfecting vs. Changing out Toothbrush

Cleaning your toothbrush regularly is essential in maintaining oral hygiene. But it doesn’t substitute brush replacement. According to the ADA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should change your toothbrush every 3-4 months or more frequently when:

  • The bristles begin to mat or fray. Bent bristles reduce the brush’s effectiveness, and it won’t clean as required. (Hint: the softer the bristle you prefer, the faster the bristles will mat, although much of the timing for any brush depends on how much pressure you exert when you scrub your teeth.)
  • Someone uses your brush. Every person has different types of normal flora in their mouth. If someone else uses your brush, replace it instead of disinfecting it.
  • Flu or cold breakout in the family. If you always store family brushes together, contagious diseases like Strep throat might spread easily among the members. Therefore, replacement is superior to disinfection.

References

An Epidemiological Survey of Toothbruth Contamination in Communal Bathrooms at Quinnipiac University. (May 2015). Quinnipiac University.

Toothbrushes. (February 16, 2019). American Dental Association.

Use & Handling of Toothbrushes. (March 15, 2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lifting the lid on toilet plume aerosol: A literature review with suggestions for future research. (March 2013). American Journal for Infection Control.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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