Reminder: That thing goes in your mouth.
Ten million. Nope, that’s not the number of times I’ve listened to Beyonce’s Lemonade to date (although it’s pretty close). It’s the amount of bacteria crawling around on the average toothbrush right this second, according to research found in The Journal of Advanced Medical and Dental Science.
That’s a frightening fact, to be sure, but you’re one of the cleaner ones, right? Actually, 7 out of every 10 brushes are infected with pathogens, says the New York State Dental Journal, so it’s unlikely.
But just how often should you be swapping out your toothbrush? Suzanne Fischard, DDS, based in Shakopee, Minnesota, says every three to four months — “or if you drop it in the toilet or your dog takes it, I’d probably replace it then.” (#WiseWords.) So basically, you can’t hold out for the free toothbrush at your biannual — or annual — cleaning, or else you might be faced with some seriously unfortunate things, like…
1. Gum Damage
“Bristles get worn down after a few months. If your brushes are fraying, you might be brushing too hard and causing damage to your gum tissue — which can lead to recession and sensitivity,” says Dr. Fischard. Doesn’t sound too good, right?
2. You Could Get the Flu
The flu virus can live on moist surfaces for up to 72 hours — but that doesn’t mean you need to swap out your toothbrush after every time you get a case of the sniffles.
“You probably don’t need to replace your brush after being sick, unless you’re immunocompromised in some way,” like you’re pregnant or struggling with an autoimmune disorder, Dr. Fischard says. Still, use your best judgment about replacing your brush after you’re sick. “I replace mine when I’ve used it after vomiting, because, well, gross. Science does prove that you’re A-OK to refrain from retiring your brush after strep, but never, ever share that brush — especially after conquering a virus.
3. And You Could Ingest Some Other Really Gross Stuff
A toothbrush harbors bacteria from your mouth and where you store it … and that’s normally near the toilet. So every time you flush, little water droplets might make their way to your bristles. About 60 percent of brushes stored in a shared bathroom are covered in at least a little fecal matter, says review published in the Journal of Advanced Medical and Dental Science Research. Even grosser: In 8 out of 10 cases, that fecal matter is not yours. Eeew.
“Bacteria goes both ways, and it’s not a good idea to use a dirty brush,” Dr. Fishchard adds. The most important step for limiting bacteria is appropriate storage — and closing the lid before flushing.
4. Basically, You’re Putting a Petri Dish In Your Mouth
You should store your toothbrush upright and in open air — and, of course, far, far away from the toilet. “Don’t cover the head of the brush with anything because bacteria proliferates so much more in moist environments” Dr. Fischard says. After brushing, rinse it with water and keep the brush upright and uncovered to allow it as dry as quickly as possible. If you share a brush cup with your partner, take special care to keep the brush heads far from each other to avoid cross contamination.
5. Your Breath Might Smell Gross
Simply put, brushing with a dirty brush will leave your mouth dirtier. While there are dozens of gadgets on the market that claim to disinfect your toothbrush, very few actually work as well as they claim, Dr. Fischard says. Your best bet, according to research in the American Journal of Dentistry, is to soak your brush in Crest Pro-Health mouthwash for 20 minutes. “I would avoid extra scrubbing of the bristles to try to clean them or putting your brush in the dishwasher because both could damage the brush and decrease its effectiveness,” she says.
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