Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Oral Care

Font Size
A
A
A

The Ugly Truth About Your Toothbrush

Your toothbrush may be nastier than you think. Find out when to ditch it.
By Susan Bernstein
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS

As you reach for your toothbrush each morning, you may not realize what’s hanging out on its bristles.

“Toothbrushes can become contaminated with oral microbial organisms whenever they are placed in the mouth,” says Sharon L. Cooper, PhD. 

Recommended Related to Oral Health

Best Tips and Tools to Whiten Your Smile

By Abbie Kozolchyk   You can easily romanticize a few laugh lines (hey - every wrinkle is but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well-spent life, according to Dickens). But time's effects on your smile can be considerably harder to write off, no matter how talented the scribe. There's the yellowing or graying of teeth, the thinning of lips, the appearance of lip lines...and the list goes on. On the bright side, home tools that fight tooth discoloration (to say nothing of the latest in-office...

Read the Best Tips and Tools to Whiten Your Smile article > >

Viruses and bacteria from an infected person’s mouth can live for weeks on a toothbrush surface, and continue to cause illness, says Cooper, clinical associate professor of periodontology at the University of Florida College of Dentistry.

Even normal, healthy microorganisms can cause infections, especially if they enter your gum tissue due to an injury, a break, or an oral ulcer, she adds. 

Toothbrushes don’t have to be sold in sterile packaging, so they may have bacteria right out of the box says the American Dental Association’s official statement on toothbrush care. 

 

Keep It Clean

You may not give much thought to cleaning your toothbrush, since you’re wetting it every day to scrub your teeth. However, it’s important -- and easy -- to do.

Wash it. Give your toothbrush a thorough rinse with tap water to remove debris. If you have a systemic illness or immune disorder, you may want to soak it in antibacterial mouthwash or run it through the dishwasher, Cooper notes. 

Try deep cleaning. There are many types of toothbrush sanitizers on the market, says Cooper. Some even use ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms.

Store it properly. After use, don’t pop that wet toothbrush back into your medicine cabinet, drawer, or bathroom cup and forget about it.

Store it upright, in a rack or cup, but not somewhere it can’t dry out. Look for a cover that lets air and prevents mold, but isn’t completely sealed. The lack of air can foster bacteria. 

When to Call It Quits

How long should you keep a toothbrush to prevent the ick from building up? Here are a few useful tips:

Know when to let go. Replace your toothbrush about every three to four months, or when it shows signs of wear. “Frayed bristles will not clean the teeth and gums adequately,” says Cooper.

Toss toothbrushes after illness. Throw away a brush you or anyone in your home used while they were sick. 

Yes, that means all toothbrushes. Treat electric or power models the same way you handle an old-fashioned one. Chuck the brush attachment after an illness or when the bristles begin to show signs of wear, Cooper says. 

 

No Sharing

Tempted to lend a toothbrush to a family member? Don’t.

Toothbrush sharing can transfer saliva and bacteria – even the kind that causes tooth decay. “Tooth decay is considered an infectious disease … one more reason not to share or borrow a toothbrush," Cooper says.   

 

Reviewed on March 03, 2014

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

Get the latest Oral Health newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Never
(0)
Good
(1-3)
Better
(4-6)
Best
(7)

You are currently

Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

big smile
Article
Man grinding teeth
Article
 
Is Diabetes Affecting Your Mouth
Tool
how your mouth impacts your health
Slideshow
 

are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
bpa dental sealants
Video
 
Healthy Mouth Slideshow
Video
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 

15 myths and facts about cavities
Video
how healthy is your mouth
Video
 
elmo brushing teeth
fitVideo
5 ways to prevent diabetes dental problems
Video