The lowly toothbrush is one of the least expensive tools to keep anything on our body in shape, yet is abused, mistreated, and rarely replaced before it falls apart!
It is often free (provided complimentary by your dentist), and in a worst-case scenario could rarely cost even $10 for the replacement head for a higher-end electric brush. It should be used a minimum of twice daily and cared for with some rudimentary rules of thumb.
Storage isn’t complicated. Most people leave their toothbrushes in a multi-container beside the sink or even just a water glass. The bristles should never have contact with another brush. In fact, besides the sink is the second worst place in a bathroom to have a brush. The water spray around that sink from washing dirty hands is not good for your brush or your internal system. The worst (by far) place to store any open brush is within 6 feet of the ‘Toilet Plume’, which is the wave of fecal bacteria mist that is expelled every time a toilet is flushed and coats everything with a bacterial mist. One should rinse any brush before and after use with warm water. After use, shake it vigorously before placing it to dry. There are many enclosed toothbrush holders, but ideally the brush should dry vertically on its own. Inside a cupboard is often used, but it should dry in the open air and in fact in another room altogether is best. Keep it upright. After it is dry, it may be put in a drawer or cabinet. If you use an electric brush, the method is still the same. Rinse before and after, and store in a clean dry place. Refrain from using Zip Lock bags, as there is too much potential for bacteria growth in that enclosed space. Some people invest in the UV (ultraviolet light) sanitizer. They generally work well, but are not really necessary to keep any brush safe to use. Some use a 3% mix of hydrogen peroxide or antibacterial mouthwash to soak a brush for 15 minutes. The solution should be changed daily. The mouthwash will shorten the lifespan of any toothbrush, but it does give your mouth a ‘Zingy!’ taste which is well worth it for many.
Where besides a bathroom might one find a toothbrush? Some apparently prefer the shower. They brush while they shower in the AM. All that has been accomplished it to make their teeth clean before breakfast! I’ve seen them with a little cord attached to the shower head! If one puts anything besides water in their mouth without brushing, it creates an environment which incubates bacteria for the remainder of the day, or the time they brush next. That extra half cup of coffee in the AM will do it. The piece of toast in the car, the doughnut or birthday cake at the office, even the “smoothy” one consumed for a between meal snack. Brush afterwards!
If you keep one in the glove box of your car, have you considered the average temp of an enclosed glove box while a vehicle is locked up in the hot sun? How about the temperature inside an enclosed purse, backpack, or shave kit? What about the other contents of said glove compartment, purse, shave kit, or other? What are the chances some food product have resided in that space since it was emptied and cleaned thoroughly? If a brush is used, rinsed, and put away – it is almost 100% damp, which is the perfect environment for bacteria growth. That glove box is a ‘death camp’ for a toothbrush.
Sharing a brush is a no-no. Every mouth has individual bacteria, and this shouldn’t be considered. Also, after every episode of a cold, flu, or Covid – discard your brush. We haven’t seen any statistics on this, but it is interesting to consider how much Covid has been spread through a family from insufficient oral hygiene practices.
Brushing needn’t be uncomfortable. Use a soft to medium bristled brush for most teenagers as well as adults. Brushing around braces requires additional care, and water piks as well as floss piks can make that task easier. As a matter of course, we encourage patients to wash their hands before they brush their teeth. Again, a damp toothbrush in an unwashed hand is just one more opportunity to create a germ playground. Ditto before flossing too!
Dr. Michael Dolynchuk is a General Dentist practicing in Caroline and Red Deer.