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Is your toothbrush contaminated? Here’s what you need to know.

DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is the oral care specialist and dental consultant to the Brilliant and Baby Buddy oral care lines through Compac Industries. See terms below

If you’ve ever thought about what’s inside your mouth; germs, leftover food, plaque and biofilm, bacteria, viruses and fungus, then you probably realized how gross our mouths can be!

Now, think about this… “What’s on your toothbrush and how did it get there? “The simple answer is your mouth got your toothbrush dirty, right- but what else contaminants your toothbrush?

The environment your toothbrush lives in, outside of your mouth, can potentially introduce new contaminants to your body! This is where we start the conversation, because your toothbrush cleans your teeth and mouth but how do you clean your toothbrush and keep it clean for the next time you plan to use it?

Keeping your toothbrush clean on a daily basis is a sanitizing process, and is something you should do everyday, with a regular, effective oral care routine. When you sanitize something, you are reducing the microorganisms and bacteria that are present, down to a safe level with cleaning practices. This is done on a toothbrush by removing potential contaminants like food, paste, or aerosols that can land on a toothbrush.

Keeping your toothbrush sanitized – What you should do.
  • Before beginning your oral care routine, start with clean hands, washing them with warm soapy water.
  • Pre-rinse the bristles with hot water.
  • Place a small amount of toothpaste onto toothbrush bristles to brush your teeth. You don’t need a long swirly slab of paste. A pea-sized amount works just fine. Too much toothpaste can junk-up the toothbrush bristles
  • When you’re finished brushing, thoroughly rinse the toothbrush bristles with warm/hot water while using a clean thumb to apply a little pressure, while rubbing against the bristles, helping to dislodge any stuck food, stain or debris.
  • Clean the brush handle of any dripped paste. This keeps paste build up at bay so the handle doesn’t get crusty spots that trap germs.
  • Tap off excess water on the edge of the sink, removing as much as you can.
  • Store your toothbrush upright, not lying down, inside of a closed cabinet. Ensure that air can fully circulate around the brush head so it can completely air dry, you don’t want the bristles to retain any moisture.
  • Replace your toothbrush at least every 3 months or sooner if needed. Always replace your toothbrush after recovering from an illness.

I recently was sent an article to review that said “Is your toothbrush covered in poop? Here’s how to thoroughly clean it” …. and after I gagged and threw up a little, I quickly responded with “THROW IT AWAY”…that’s how you clean it, throw it away.

There is no cleaning process for a toothbrush that’s actually “covered in poop,” period! I think most people already know this and realize this is just an attention grabbing headline for an article that most likely doesn’t talk about this literally but more figuratively. However, logic is not everyone’s strong suit so let me explain.

People are serial googlers now, and pay only half of their attention to the plethora of information they have before them. Trust me, I can speak from professional experience. Some of the things people have asked me or told me over the years would not only leave you scratching your head thinking “What in the world,” you would begin to understand why we have some of the warning labels we do on products and services. Like the following:

  • Chainsaw: Danger! Do not hold the wrong end.
  • Commercial Washing machine: Warning! Do not put any person inside this machine.
  • Dremel Power Tool: Danger! This product is not intended for use as a dental drill.
  • Iron: Warning! Do not iron clothes while wearing them.
  • Stroller: Warning! Remove child before folding.

If you’re laughing out loud now, get ready to cry, because these examples are all warning labels that were created, because someone did exactly what the label is warning against. So for that lone soul out there who’s kid got a hold of their toothbrush and decided to play in the cat’s litter box with it and it is now, LITERALLY, covered in poop? You can’t clean it, don’t even try, just get a new one.

The poop article I was sent highlighted how the spray from a toilet can reach up to 5 feet in a bathroom, potentially contaminating a toothbrush that has been left out on the counter near the toilet or just within reach of hazards. Dental professionals have known for years how gross and contaminated a toothbrush can get, and I think people are starting to get the big picture now too. Hopefully most people who find that article will read the whole thing, instead of skipping straight to the “How To Clean It ” part; missing the overall point. Toilet Plume is a phenomenon where the dispersal of microscopic pathogenic droplets are dispersed when a toilet is flushed with the lid open and it is quite GROSS when you think about it. This is why a toothbrush should NOT be kept on the counter, out in the open, but there are other reasons too!

  • Aerosol droplets from room sprays, diffusers, air fresheners, hair spray, perfume etc..
  • Splashing droplets from the sink or tub/shower.
  • Pets who can reach the counter top.
  • Indoor air pollutants that circulate with HVAC systems. Dust, Mold, Smoke.

I wish it were as simple as just putting down the seat before you flush, but if you have kids and pets like I do, you realize it can be a challenge to get everyone on the same page doing the same thing.

I don’t usually share youtube videos but this one will cause every animal owner to take a serious pause, right before they run to their bathroom.

Oh..My..Gosh..Right? (Gagging is happening). The cat is not only contaminating the toothbrush, it’s feet are contaminating the counter.

So what can you do to help protect your toothbrush?
  • Don’t bite, suck, chew, or gnaw on your toothbrush or let your animals either????. This damages the bristles and causes micro tears and abrasions that can trap and harbor more bacteria into the fibers of the brush and the handle.
  • Don’t store your toothbrush on the counter of your bathroom if possible. Your toothbrush is exposed to bathroom air and the elements that float around in the air of a bathroom, like the spray from a flushed toilet, called toilet plume, or the mist from an air freshener, cleaning product, or body spray.
  • Don’t let your toothbrush lie in a puddle of water on the side of the sink, remember it has to air dry, upright.
  • Don’t leave stain, food, or toothpaste in the bristles.
  • Don’t share your toothbrush with anyone, even your significant other and especially not your children. Whatever bacteria or viruses are in your mouth or on your toothbrush can be easily transferred to someone else through your saliva.
  • Don’t let your toothbrush touch someone else’s toothbrush when put away for drying. Each should have its own slot or holder.
  • Make sure the toothbrush holder stays clean. If it’s a cup, regularly change it out and run it through the dishwasher.
  • Don’t keep a toothbrush for too long, replace your toothbrush at least every 3 months.
  • Do not keep a brush head covered with a travel cap or inside a travel case. Air should be able to circulate freely and easily on a daily basis. Travel containers are meant for traveling and not designed for everyday use.
Extra ways to keep it clean

If you need a little extra cleaning help- say you just bought a more expensive toothbrush and you accidentally dropped it on the floor or somehow contaminated it unintentionally some other way.

  • You may soak the brush head in a mug of hot water, baking soda, and vinegar for 10-15 minutes and this will add extra cleansing support instead of throwing away an almost new toothbrush.

Another option…

  • Use a little mouthwash as a soaking solution for the brush head, again, for 10-15 minutes and only on occasion, not on a daily basis.
What does the American Dental Association say?

The ADA says  “There is insufficient clinical evidence to support that bacterial growth on toothbrushes will lead to specific adverse oral or systemic health effects. Read more about that here HOWEVER…it says insufficient, not non-existent. This means there is evidence, just not enough to support  a formal stance and declaration. You can read more here if you are interested

Oral care is important for everyone! Talk to your dental professional about any challenges you may encounter or questions you may have about taking care of your mouth. Remember that the right tools, used the right way mean everything when it comes to oral hygiene. Be sure to check out my favorite speciality toothbrush recommendations and our soft toothbrush for sensitive teeth by shopping our store at and remember to brush Brilliant®.

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This article is intended to provide an understanding of and knowledge about “oral health topics” as expressed through the perspective and experience of the author. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or counsel, including the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, an oral condition, illness or treatment of any listed or non listed situation above. By using this site, you signify your assent to our Terms and Conditions. If you do not agree to all of these Terms and Conditions, do not use this site.

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