Is Your Toothbrush a Germ Factory?

With the cold and flu season in full force, many Americans are taking any and all measures available to avoid contracting a nasty bug.  Despite efforts, experts agree that this year is one of the worst flu seasons in recent history, with 47 states claiming high flu incidence, inundating doctor’s offices and hospitals nationwide.  Apart from frequent hand washing, receiving a flu shot, and avoiding heavily populated public areas, there isn’t much one can do to avoid contracting the flu.  Or is there?

According to a Huffington Post article, (“Can Your Toothbrush Make You Sick?”), several toothbrush packages warn consumers that germs are able to hide in bristles and can lead to re-infection if not replaced.  If someone in your house is ill or you contract a cold, is it wise to run out and replace your toothbrush?  Author Julia Felsenthal doesn’t think so.  She believes it’s a ploy to sell more products.  While it is true that the virus is able to hang out on your toothbrush for up to 3 days, the likelihood of re-infection is low, considering how effectively your body produces antibodies to your illness.  That being said, it is possible to re-infect yourself with a bacteria-based illness, such as strep throat, but many types of toothpaste contain antibacterial compounds that mitigate that chance.  It is very possible, however, to catch a cold from someone else’s toothbrush, whether you use it yourself, or it happens to be stored in close proximity to yours.  Sharing a toothpaste tube with someone who is sick can also spread germs.

The moral of the story is that it is unlikely that your toothbrush will make you sick, provided you store it away from other brushes and in a place it can easily air-dry.  Not sharing toothpaste with someone who is sick is also a wise idea.  And don’t forget, keep your toothbrush away from the toilet, as studies have shown that toilet spray can reach bristles (GROSS!), contaminating them with fecal coliforms and spreading noroviruses.  The American Dental Association does recommend replacing your toothbrush every three to four months as bristles fray, but not as an effective measure in remaining healthy.

Written by Mark Paulsort

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