Dental Devices May Cause Infection
Toothbrushes, Dentures, and Other Dental Devices May Harm Your Health
WebMD News Archive
Sept. 30, 2004 -- Four out of five dentists may be surprised: Toothbrushes, dentures, dental floss, and athletic mouthguards may be responsible for recurring health problems ranging from asthma attacks to herpes outbreaks.
The problem: Bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses live on these dental devices and when used and stored as they usually are, they transmit these disease-causing organisms into the bloodstream, promoting infection, says R. Thomas Glass, DDS, PhD, professor of dentistry and pathology at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
"We have done several studies with large groups of patients, in which we looked at their disease processes and then examined their toothbrush or dentures," he tells WebMD. "Low and behold, the same organisms producing the disease are found on these devices."
A specialist in oral microbiology and disease transmission for 20 years, Glass presented research today at the annual meeting of the American Dental Association in Orlando, Fla., on how various infections may result from proper oral hygiene and recommended dental protection -- and ways to lower risk. In his research, he notes that scores of different bugs can survive on dental devices.
How Hygiene Hurts
"The action of brushing your teeth, especially with an electric toothbrush, actually pushes these organisms beneath the skin in your mouth," says Glass. "Dentures add another dimension. Because of hydraulic pressure, every time you chew, you are pushing these organisms into [the skin of] your mouth."
Since many of these germs got on these devices because they were already in your mouth, they may not cause new disease unless shared with others. But he says they play a role in recurring illness.
"When your resistance is low, that's when this becomes clinically important," he says. "In essence, you are re-infecting yourself."
The herpes simplex virus, for instance, can remain active on a toothbrush for up to 12 days and live on dentures for up to three, he finds. Cold and flu germs can also survive for weeks under the right breeding conditions.
"These bugs need food, water, darkness and to not be disturbed -- and the bathroom provides all of that," he says. "And when you flush your toilet, there is aeration coming from the toilet to the rest of the bathroom that may also contribute to these organisms. So one key issue is where you store your toothbrush. My advice is to keep your toothbrush in the bedroom, not the bathroom."
What else does he recommend?