How Clean Is Your Toothbrush?

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Everyone brushes their teeth, at least I’d hope that everyone does, and anticipates that their toothbrush is clean considering it does the cleaning. It’s very common place to pick up a toothbrush from off the sink counter and begin to brush your teeth, without thinking there are possibilities of  that cleaning your teeth is not all that is happening. I have an electric toothbrush that sits on my desk in my dorm room, and I’m curious as to how clean my toothbrush actually is. According to an article from Men’s Health, “A new toothbrush can become contaminated after 30 seconds of use by bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the mouth or external environment.” So how clean is your toothbrush?

The fecal matter debate 

I have heard before that there is a possibility that toothbrushes, when stored in the bathroom uncovered can contain fecal bacteria. In a study performed by researchers at Quinnipiac University, they tested the toothbrushes of participants that use communal bathrooms, with approximately 9.4 users per bathroom. The study collected toothbrushes from individuals and regardless of how they stored their toothbrushes, 60% of the toothbrushes were contaminated with fecal coliforms. A flaw in this study is the fact that the number of toothbrushes tested(survey size) is unclear. Another thing is the fact that it is not stated whether or not the toothbrushes are kept in the bathroom or just brought in when participants are brushing their teeth. There is no possibility of confounding factors in the study, because what is being measured is hard to manipulate.

The main concern in the study is not only the fact that there may be fecal coliforms on your toothbrush, but the very fact that there’s an 80% chance the fecal matter is from someone else. That being said, there are different viruses, and bacteria that are present that are different then the ones from an individuals own flora. Which may pose an issue in gut health. There is also the concern that the storage of a toothbrush can also impact how bacteria grows. If a cover is used on a toothbrush it can facilitate bacteria growth because the bristles will remain wet and allow for bacteria to thrive.

In another study I found, it included sufficient description of the method used. The study tested 150 toothbrushes of healthy individuals and looked for the various bacteria and flora that was on the toothbrushes. The study was performed in India at the microbiology department of Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences. The toothbrushes that were collected were selected at random from males and females of all ages. There was also a screening that occurred prior to the study to test for the presence of any oral and systemic diseases, this was done to try and eliminate any confounding factors. The study concluded that toothbrushes may in fact have bacteria on them as soon as they come out of the box, but also they have the ability to be infected by numerous microorganisms such as those listed below. Toothbrush: A Favorable Media for Bacterial Growth

Toothbrush: A Favorable Media for Bacterial Growth

Toothbrush: A Favorable Media for Bacterial Growth

The results of the study were, “fifty-four samples showed facultative anaerobes growth, i.e. Streptococcus mutans, Alpha-hemolytic streptococci, coagulase negativeStaphylococci (CONS) and diphtheroids. Sixty-six samples showed polymicrobial etiology and 30 showed purely anaerobic bacteria, i.e.Bacteroides, Lactobacilli.” This can be concluded that out of 150 toothbrush samples there were many different types of bacteria found. It is hard to make more conclusions because there may be other factors that differ such as type of water used, and how long the toothbrush has been used for. Also, it is hard to know which toothbrush had what and if any of the bacteria is overlapping, and if more than 1 bacteria is present on the toothbrush.

So how clean is your toothbrush?

Not clean at all, fecal matter may be present amongst various bacteria. Not necessarily something you want to hear considering your toothbrush is quire obviously placed into your mouth.

5 thoughts on “How Clean Is Your Toothbrush?

  1. John Zabinski

    This is a very interesting article for a problem that I never even thought about! it seems that many companies acknowledged this problem and market toothbrush cleaning products that you can purchase. But according to the American Dental Association article linked below there is still no clinical evidence that supports the benefits of the use of those products or any of the other suggested methods outside of the widely known ones that you mentioned in your post such as replacing every 3-4 months and leaving them uncovered etc. I hope clinical testing will be done on the other cleaning methods in the future to find the best one available to use. I do hope you expand on this in a second blog as Brian suggested because I am very interested to know what impact the bacteria and viruses have.
    http://www.ada.org/en/about-the-ada/ada-positions-policies-and-statements/statement-on-toothbrush-care-cleaning-storage-and-

  2. Stephanie Michelle Friedman

    This is something I didn’t imagine to read today, and I am totally grossed out. You make valid points though, people subconsciously place their toothbrushes on the sink or let it hang out freely in their dorm. This makes me wonder if tooth brush covers cause problems because they are being placed over a wet toothbrush with germs, and don’t things grow in dark, warm, and damp areas? This could be an interesting follow up to the experiments already conducted. Whatever the answer is that is very gross especially because it is thought to be cleaning our mouths.

  3. Sarah Jo Sokoloski Post author

    Brian,
    Your ideas on furthering this post are definitely a possibility! I too am curious as to what this bacteria does to us, one thing I know for sure is that the bacteria can make us sick, and as I stated in this blog post the fecal coliforms can pose an issue on an individual’s gut health. I found an article on the best way to clean a toothbrush, and I found that aside from cleaning it with hot water, it can be soaked in an antiseptic mouthwash such as Listerine, boiled, or placed into the freezer. There are also specific toothbrush cleaners that use UV light to disinfect. There is certainly a lot more information to be figured out on how to clean toothbrushes, keep them clean and prevent bacterial growth.

  4. Brian Dougherty

    Now knowing that our toothbrushes are not clean, the so what factor comes into play. In other words, how do we make our toothbrushes clean after we are finished brushing? This article from BreathMD explains the best way to keep a clean toothbrush is to rinse it under hot water while moving the bristles back and forth with the tip of your thumb before AND after brushing. This removes and kills any bacteria before you put the toothbrush in your mouth and will limit bacteria accumulation after brushing. This is a very interesting and informative post. It raises an issue which everyone should be aware of in order to maintain the healthiest mouth as possible. A possible future post could be an extension of this post in which you research and report the effects these bacteria and viruses have on people’s gums, teeth, and overall health of the mouth.

  5. elb5372

    Well this is definitely interesting. I’d like to thank you for now making me extremely grossed out from brushing me teeth. This post is actually very informative and the studies that were done are interesting. Overall, I enjoyed reading the post, even if the studies have unfavorable outcomes.

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