You may have never considered how dirty toothbrushes can be, but the reality is they can become literally covered by viruses and bacteria, some of which can make you sick. Below is more information on the microbial hazards that may infect your toothbrush as well as how you can prevent it from being contaminated by properly cleaning your brush:
The threat to your health
Well over 500 species of bacteria inhabit the human mouth, and that doesn't include other types of microorganisms such as viruses. These microbes are transferable to toothbrushes through ordinary use, and several of them are capable of causing a variety of diseases in people; illnesses such as influenza, gastroenteritis, and staph infections are all possible outcomes. Even tooth decay can occur as a result of bacterial-laden toothbrushes.
It isn't just the microorganisms within your own mouth that are problematic. Within the damp environment that typifies most bathrooms, there are other disease-causing germs that can find their way to your toothbrush and quickly multiply on the bristles. Some of these microorganisms are emitted from flushing toilets, and others are passed on to brushes by dirty hands or from contact with bathroom surfaces. Regardless of source, the end result is a toothbrush that can make you ill due to a nasty microbial "load".
How to prevent your toothbrush from being contaminated
As with a lot of health-related matters, prevention is an important key to protecting your health in the case of germ-infested toothbrushes. Below are several strategies that can help keep your toothbrush from becoming a reservoir of germs:
Allow your toothbrush to air dry - It may seem logical to cover your toothbrush to prevent it from coming into contact with microbes, but there is danger in encasing the head of your toothbrush. Bacteria thrive in moist, dark environments, and surrounding your brush creates a perfect habitat for bacterial growth. Instead, place your toothbrush in an open setting where it can dry as quickly as possible after use. If possible, provide your brush head with direct sunlight and fresh air in a window sill; this natural "disinfectant" can minimize the presence of microbial growth.
Close the toilet lid when you flush - Lowering the toilet lid while flushing can greatly reduce the numbers of pathogens, such as E. coli, from being spread around your bathroom and settling on your toothbrush. Make it a habit to keep the lid down, and you will keep your brush from being exposed to harmful germs.
Use multiple brushes - Most people don't think of using more than one toothbrush at a time, but it makes good sense to have a separate brush for morning use and another one for evening use. This provides the brush heads plenty of time to dry between uses and also reduces the opportunity for microorganism accumulation on each brush.
Know when to replace your toothbrush - A toothbrush is designed to be replaced after three to four months of use, but you should also dispose of a toothbrush used after a period of illness regardless of how old it is. Don't continue to use a brush after you recover from sickness, such as cold or flu, as it can harbor the microorganisms and even pass them on to others who may come into contact with the brush.
How to clean your toothbrush
Along with prevention, it can help to regularly clean your toothbrush to provide yourself with maximum protection from potential illness. Below are a few cleaning strategies that can be effective in making your brush squeaky-clean:
Rinse your toothbrush with hydrogen peroxide - Pour a small amount of hydrogen peroxide over your toothbrush bristles after every use, and it will do a great job of safely disinfecting the brush. However, keep in mind that hydrogen peroxide will lose its potency within a few weeks after opening, and you should replace the bottle on a regular basis.
Soak your brush in mouthwash - Another way to clean your brush is by soaking the head in a small cup of mouthwash for a few minutes after use. Just be sure to use an alcohol-based mouthwash for its antiseptic properties, and periodically dump the mouthwash and replace it with clean solution.
Wash your toothbrush in the dishwasher - Your home's automatic dishwasher is capable of providing a thorough cleaning for your toothbrush, and tossing it into the silverware basket on a regular basis can kill nearly all bacteria and viruses. However, check your brush after washing to ensure it didn't melt in the hot water, and discard any brushes that show signs of warping or bristles loosening.
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