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Don't Brush Where You Flush - and Other Ways to Keep Your Toothbrush Bacteria Free

We all know a simple toothbrush, used effectively, is central to your oral health. But before you put it in your mouth, consider this: the average toothbrush can contain 10 million bacteria or more—including E. coli and Staph, according to a study at the University of Manchester in England. Yuck.

Where do these bacteria come from? First of all, your mouth. About 100 to 200 species may live in your mouth at any given time. People who practice good oral hygiene may have 1,000 to 100,000 bacteria living on each tooth surface, while less clean mouths can have between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria on each tooth.

Your toothbrush is also a bacteria magnet. If you store your toothbrush on or next to the bathroom sink, it gets contaminated from splashing when you wash your hands — and whatever you are washing off your hands may be splashed onto the brush, as well.

Even more disturbing is what happens when you flush with the toilet lid open. Charles Gerba, Ph.D., Professor, Microbiology & Environmental Sciences, University of Arizona College of Public Health, points out that bacteria and viruses falling from spray generated when you flush the toilet “remain airborne long enough to settle on surfaces throughout the bathroom.”  An English study found that diarrhea-causing bacteria from a lidless flush flew as high as 10 inches above the toilet.  Another study demonstrated that three different types of toilets, when flushed with the cover open "aerosolized" their bio-contents. The fecal matter was found on everything within a 5- to 6-foot radius.

Needless to say, if your toothbrush is sitting on the bathroom counter, it will probably be within that range.

Still need convincing? Another study compared the bacteria on toothbrushes from two groups: people who had bathrooms with attached toilets, and those with bathrooms without attached toilets. The toothbrushes were analyzed at one month and then again at three months. In each group, the toothbrushes contained an array of microorganisms commonly found in the mouth, such as streptococcus mutans, candida, pseudomonas, and lactobacilli microorganisms. However, samples from bathrooms with an attached toilet also included E. coli, a bacteria associated with gastrointestinal disease.

Tips on Keeping Your Toothbrush Clean

Now that you are sufficiently revolted, are you ready to start treating your brush a little better? Here’s what to do to keep your toothbrush as bacteria-free as possible.

Replace your toothbrush 

The ADA recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, or more often if bristles become frayed, if you are sick, or if you have a weakened immune system. For an electric toothbrush, replace the head as frequently as you would a regular disposable brush.

Toothbrush storage

Keep your toothbrush in a medicine cabinet. Don’t store it in an airtight container, which encourages bacteria growth. Instead, allow your brush to dry out between cleanings. And If you store toothbrushes together, make sure the heads don’t touch.

Don’t share toothbrushes 

No matter how conscientious you are about cleaning, you will never remove all bacteria. Give family members different colored brushes - especially your children - to prevent them from getting mixed up. If you want to be really safe, have different tubes of toothpaste for family members. 

Clean your bristles

Occasionally soak toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide or mouthwashes with antibacterial agents, especially if you’ve dropped it on the floor, and rinse your toothbrush in tap water thoroughly after brushing.

Get rid of the toothbrush holder

A study by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) found that toothbrush holders are the third-most "germy" household items (behind dish sponges and kitchen sinks). If you really want to use one, remember to clean your toothbrush holder regularly.  

Close the lid when you flush

Always flush your toilet with the lid down 

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