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Can your toothbrush make you sick?

There are simple ways to remove microorganisms from your toothbrush

You may have heard talk about the germs that can live on your toothbrush and wondered if it’s cause for concern. It’s a fact that there are more bacteria in the mouth than anywhere else in your body, and some of them get on your toothbrush when you brush your teeth. In addition, most people store their toothbrush in the bathroom, which tends to contain numerous airborne bacteria because of the warm, moist environment.

Does your toothbrush need sterilization

Although studies have shown that various microorganisms can grow on toothbrushes after use, there is no clinical evidence that soaking a toothbrush in an antibacterial mouth rinse or using a commercially available toothbrush sanitizer has any positive or negative effect on health.

While these products don't do any harm and company studies show they do succeed in removing germs, they are not necessary to prevent the spread of germs. Simpler methods can be used to limit the spread of germs from toothbrushes.

Keep in mind that some toothbrush cleaning methods, including use of a dishwasher or microwave oven, could damage the toothbrush. Manufacturers may not have designed their products to withstand the extreme conditions of heat. The cleaning effectiveness of the toothbrush might be decreased if it is damaged.

What can you do?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a simple regimen for toothbrush care is sufficient to remove most microorganisms from your toothbrush and limit the spread of disease. Here are some common-sense steps you can take:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after brushing or flossing.
  • After brushing, rinse your toothbrush with warm water and store it upright to air-dry.
  • Don't cover your toothbrush or place it in a closed container until it is completely dry. A moist environment can foster bacterial growth.
  • Use a completely dry toothbrush. Everyone should have two toothbrushes to give ample time (24 hours) for it to dry out in between uses.
  • Don't share a toothbrush with anyone. Also, don't store toothbrushes in a way that might cause them to touch and spread germs.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three or four months. Dentists recommend this practice not as prevention against contamination, but because toothbrushes wear out and become less effective at cleaning teeth.
  • Always replace your toothbrush after a cold or other illness to prevent contamination.
  • If you or someone else in your family is sick, that person should use a different tube of toothpaste (travel size, for example), to prevent spreading germs to other toothbrushes.
The use and handling of toothbrushes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toothbrush care, cleaning and replacement. American Dental Association. Statement on Toothbrush Care: Cleaning, Storage and Replacement. American Dental Association.
Last updated: March 2012

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.