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How To Clean Your Toothbrush

It’s simpler than you might think

A person in a bathrobe running water over their toothbrush in a sink

Over the years, people have tried all sorts of ways to clean their toothbrushes. Some run it through the dishwasher. Others soak the head in mouthwash or effervescent denture cleaner. Others freeze it, boil it or invest in a pricey ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizer.

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But are these the best ways to disinfect your toothbrush? And do these methods even work?

“The bottom line is, that none of that is necessary,” says dentist Karyn Kahn, DDS. Read on as she shares what actually works to keep your brush in tip-top shape.

How to clean your toothbrush

Cleaning a toothbrush is simpler than you might think. In fact, you don’t need to purchase any fancy bathroom accessories or toiletries.

Use hot water

Forget soaking a toothbrush in mouthwash or denture cleaner or using UV light cleaners. “I suggest just rinsing your toothbrush in good, hot water,” says Dr. Kahn. If you see any chunks of toothpaste or food on your toothbrush, be sure to also rinse it well to dislodge them.

The reason you use hot water is that you have a natural flora of bacteria living in your mouth that’s necessary for a healthy environment. It’s not important to try to completely remove this bacteria from your toothbrush.

How to keep your toothbrush clean and bacteria-free

Believe it or not, you don’t want your toothbrush to be free of bacteria. “If you don’t have that bacteria, that’s when opportunist microorganisms like yeast and fungi take over,” explains Dr. Kahn. “You want a certain amount of natural bacteria in your mouth, just not around the teeth or gum tissue.”

In its recommendation about toothbrush care, the American Dental Association (ADA) cites studies that have found no evidence of negative oral health effects from normal bacteria on a toothbrush.

However, Dr. Kahn does have tips for keeping a clean and effective toothbrush.

  1. Let it dry completely. The bacteria that live on a toothbrush after you use it are considered anaerobic — meaning they will die in the presence of oxygen. So, if you let your toothbrush air dry, it will take care of most bacteria.
  2. Store your toothbrush properly. Remember to store your toothbrush in an open-air holder, not in a dirty cup, drawer or travel case. Storing your toothbrush in those places can promote the growth of mold or bacteria that isn’t natural to your mouth, leading to mouth diseases like gingivitis. The ADA also recommends not routinely covering your toothbrush, either, for the risk of unwanted bacteria
  3. Replace your toothbrush after being sick. Pitching your toothbrush is crucial if you’re sick or have a fungal, yeast or viral infection in your mouth. Replace your brush at the beginning of treatment and again at the end. “However, after you are sick, my general recommendation is to replace your toothbrush,” she adds. “It’s an easy fix to make sure lingering bacteria doesn’t lead to reinfection or get passed on to family members. This makes a lot more sense than trying to clean your toothbrush by boiling it or by using hydrogen peroxide or vinegar.”
  4. Don’t share toothbrushes. Your mouth needs a healthy flora of its own bacteria, but it’s not good to introduce bacteria from someone else. “You should never share a toothbrush, especially with your children, since that’s when they are acquiring their normal flora,” cautions Dr. Kahn. Also, avoid storing multiple brushes, such as those of family members, in the same holder or in a drawer together. It’s best if they don’t contact each other.
  5. Replace it. Instead of trying to sterilize your toothbrush, make a habit of replacing it regularly. Your toothbrush should look clean and straight. Be on the lookout for discoloration, buildup or any matted bristles. If you see any of this, it’s time to change your toothbrush. The suggestions on when to replace your toothbrush vary according to the manufacturer. “Keep it easy and follow the ADA guidelines,” says Dr. Kahn. “Replace it every three to four months. If you see the bristles are frayed, replace it sooner.”

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At any time, if you have any questions about the effectiveness of your toothbrush, a good rule of thumb is to get a new one. Some experts even recommend having two toothbrushes and alternating while one dries.

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