Eww! Check Out What Lurks on Your Toothbrush

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Testing of toothbrushes shows that sharing a bathroom may mean exchanging fecal matter.

At Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, 55 percent of tested toothbrushes from communal bathrooms contained fecal coliforms. Tested bathrooms had an average of 9.4 occupants.

A press release from the American Society for Microbiology states the finding is consistent with the results of prior studies. The research was presented at the ASM’s annual meeting this week.

Toothbrush contamination may occur when someone handles the toothbrush. It also can come from the toilet, as Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson, told WebMD in an earlier article about germs in the bathroom:

“Polluted water vapor erupts out of the flushing toilet bowl and it can take several hours for these particles to finally settle — not to mention where. If you have your toothbrush too close to the toilet, you are brushing your teeth with what’s in your toilet.”

The Quinnipiac study found that when a brush was contaminated with fecal bacteria, there was an 80 percent chance that the bacteria came from another person — and that’s the real problem. Lauren Aber, a Master of Health Sciences graduate student from Quinnipiac, states in the press release:

“The main concern is not with the presence of your own fecal matter on your toothbrush, but rather when a toothbrush is contaminated with fecal matter from someone else, which contains bacteria, viruses or parasites that are not part of your normal flora.”

The Quinnipiac research also found that whether the toothbrushes were cleaned with cold water, hot water or mouthwash made no difference in terms of how effectively the brushes were decontaminated.

Toothbrush covers only make matters worse, Aber says, because they keep toothbrush bristles moist by not allowing the head to dry out between uses. That creates a breeding ground for bacteria.

The nonprofit American Dental Association recommends that you:

  • Don’t share toothbrushes, which can increase your risk of contracting an infection from someone else.
  • Store toothbrushes upright and keep them separated from other brushes in the same holder or area to help reduce the chances of cross-contamination.
  • Toothbrushes stored in the open are vulnerable to contamination from the toilet, which releases a fine vapor with each flush that settles on bathroom surfaces. Close the lid before flushing or store the brush out of the line of fire.
  • Don’t enclose toothbrushes in closed containers or regularly cover the brush.
  • Thoroughly rinse toothbrushes after use, making sure to remove all leftover toothpaste, saliva and debris from the bristles.
  • Replace toothbrushes at least every three to four months.

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