Your toothbrush is loaded with more germs than you care to think about. After all, its No. 1 job is digging out leftover food and bacteria from the corners of your mouth, which a 2014 study published in the Scientific World Journal estimated houses more than 700 bacterial species.
“People grow all sorts of crazy things on their toothbrush,” Mark Burhenne, DDS, who wasn’t involved in the research, told Fox News. That can be harmful if bacteria from a cold virus, for instance, harbors on your toothbrush and you end up getting reinfected.
Your best defense: Replacing your toothbrush often. The American Dental Association says the magic number is every three to four months.
That’s not only because of bacteria, though. “Everyone sees the toothbrush as a safe, wonderful, efficacious thing whereas dentists kind of look at it the opposite,” Burhenne said. Patients can do damage by over-brushing and by using old toothbrushes where the soft dome-shaped bristles have become sharp.
Burhenne tells patients who are prone to over-brushing to swap out their toothbrush every month. The same goes for electric toothbrush heads. “The toothbrush is moving at 30,000 cycles per minute and the human hand cannot make that motion, so I would say go to Costco, buy a 12-pack, and replace it every month,” Burhenne said. “The toothbrush head, because of that motion, wears down quicker.”
To keep bacteria at bay before the three or four-month mark hits, store your toothbrush upright in a glass to allow it to air dry. You can also swish it in 100 percent white vinegar, which the researchers from the 2014 study found effectively (and cheaply) wipes out bacteria.