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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: What's germier than your toilet?

  • Dirty, nasty, grimy, germ-infested. My kids? Yes. But that’s a different article for a different time. I am referring to the average American toothbrush. Designed to promote and maintain oral health, these devices have the potential to cause infection.

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  • Dirty, nasty, grimy, germ-infested. My kids? Yes. But that’s a different article for a different time. I am referring to the average American toothbrush. Designed to promote and maintain oral health, these devices have the potential to cause infection.
    Toothbrushes and health, what do you know? T or F?
    1. Toothbrushes should be replaced monthly.
    2. Toothbrushes should be stored in an antibacterial rinse.
    3. Toothbrush holders have more bacteria than toilet seats.
    The mouth harbors millions of bacteria which generally live together in harmony. When there is overgrowth of some bacteria or suppressed growth of others, the resultant imbalance can lead to infections. Food particles attract bacteria which if ignored can lead to gum disease. And so we brush.
    Dentists have long known that oral health is related to heart health. Poor oral hygiene can cause dental, and general health problems. Brushing can cause bacteria to enter the blood stream through tiny abrasions and cuts in gums. This can cause inflammation of the lining of blood vessels and contribute to heart disease. Plaque is bacteria and food particles. Toothbrushes contact plaque, become contaminated and, through repeated brushing (and exposure to flushed toilets) progressively become more contaminated.
    Will using a contaminated, germy toothbrush every day make us sick? There are some reports that bacteria harvested from toothbrushes may cause diarrhea, skin infections or other maladies. Those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer may be particularly vulnerable to infection. The American Dental Association (ADA), however, reports that there is insufficient evidence that bacterial growth on toothbrushes cause specific oral or general infections. Still, the thought of using a contaminated toothbrush is, at the very least, unsettling.
    Some simple steps can alleviate concerns. The best approach to having a reasonably clean toothbrush is to replace it regularly. The ADA recommends every 3-4 months. If your brush appears matted down with frayed bristles, it is definitely time for a replacement. Those with chronic illnesses should consider replacing more frequently.
    Store your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as possible. Sinks are often located next to toilets, which, when flushed, send tiny mists of contaminated water into the air. (I don’t even want to think about that!). If the toothbrush is nearby—well, you get the picture. Keep the toilet lid down to decrease contamination.
    After brushing, rinse the toothbrush thoroughly with tap water and then store upright to allow it to drain and dry. Bacteria love moist environments. Toothbrush covers retain moisture and create an environment that bacteria love. Avoid them.
    Don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush. Ever. Not your spouse’s. Not anyone’s. Your bacteria is your bacteria. Theirs is theirs. Don’t mix. You may be setting yourself up for an infection by introducing foreign bacteria into your mouth. Multiple toothbrushes placed in the same holder should be separated to avoid cross-contamination.
    Page 2 of 2 - There are sanitizing products on the market which use heat, ultraviolet light and antibacterial rinses. Some may kill bacteria but there is no evidence that they prevent illness. If you use such products make sure they are FDA approved.
    Toothbrush holders are one of the germiest items in the house, harboring more bacteria per square inch than toilet seats. In a recent study they ranked 3rd behind kitchen sponges and kitchen sinks as harboring most bacteria. Consider using your dishwasher to routinely clean the toothbrush holder.
    Germier than my toilet seat?! Now I am sick.
    Answers: 1. F; 2. F; 3. T.
    Dr. Lori Boyajian-O'Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com
     
     
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