Should You Change Your Toothbrush After Being Sick?

Updated: Jun 5

Is that something that you've thought about or is this the first time that you're hearing about this? We all know that when we are sick, we shouldn't spread germs to others by staying away from people. We should keep to ourselves and practice a little self isolation but do we need to protect ourselves from ourselves?


Is that same toothbrush that we used when we were sick, dangerous to our own well being and health? What's the verdict?

Sick toothbrush
Sick toothbrush

Table of Contents


Should I change your toothbrush after a cold?

Even a child knows not to share personal belongings, toys, napkins, and food with others when they are sick because they know that they can spread germs. When you are sick, you are full of germs, bacteria, and viruses. All of these microorganisms can attach themselves onto various objects. If we pass these contaminated items to others, we can potentially infect them and get them ill or sick.


What about that toothbrush that we were using while we were sick. It is definitely contaminated and full of germs since we were brushing it with it the entire time. There is definitely a lot of residual bacteria on it since after we brushed, all we did was just rinse it off with water and left it out to dry. Most likely didn't do anything extra to clean off the germs. I guess if you wanted to, you could soak it in mouthwash?


If germs can stay on objects, there is no reason why it wouldn't still be on it, so common sense would tell us that we should replace the toothbrush after being ill. After all, dentists do recommend to replace the brush head every 3-4 months anyway and you were probably late in doing so! There is no harm in replacing it and probably safer if you do so. It can only be beneficial if you do.


But, what if you just replaced the brush last month and it is a bit too soon to do so. Can you keep the same toothbrush after being ill? I mean, we don't want to create more waste on this blue planet.



Toothbrush contamination protocol at hospitals

A study by the journal of Nursing Research and Practice in 2012 examined 450 articles in which there was possible toothbrush contamination within a hospital setting. What they found were:

  • Currently, there are no nursing guidelines related to toothbrush decontamination, frequency of use, nor storage.

  • Bacterial growth on the brushes were 70% greater when stored in a moist closed container.

  • There weren't any direct studies, which specifically looked at this issue. All of them were just loosely associated.

This is incredibly interesting because there is no standardized guidelines for handling of the brushes in a hospital setting. Apparently, each hospital is allowed to just do whatever they wanted with the brushes. It seems as if toothbrush contamination is not even a concern for hospitals.


The study did suggest that there is a need to address this issue and that we should look to creating one, a standard protocol for handling toothbrushes in a hospital setting.



What the CDC recommends for toothbrush handling

The CDC acknowledges that the mouth is home to millions of germs and bacteria but the recommendation to clean it is simply to rinse it off with water. There is very limited research, which suggests that there are residual bacteria on the brushes even after rinsing.


There is currently no published research which indicates that brushing with a contaminated toothbrush has led to an individual to get sick again or reinfected.


Here is the CDC toothbrush care list:

  • Please do not share toothbrushes. This is especially important in immune system compromised individuals.

  • After brushing, rinse it off with water and let it air-dry. Do not store in a closed container.

  • Do not soak the toothbrush in mouthwash because this can actually spread germs.

  • Dishwasher, microwaves, or even the ultraviolet sanitizing devices should not be used to disinfect the toothbrush. These can potentially damage the brush.

  • Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months.


Discussion

Overall, it seems as if it is safe to reuse the same toothbrush after being sick since there is a low chance of you getting sick again from it. That does make sense if you think about it because you reclthough I suppose you could get sick from a different strain of germs!over from your sickness after you've developed antibodies to fight it off. Now that you are teeming to the brim with super antibodies, the chances of you getting sick again from the same exact germs are pretty low even if it is a flu toothbrush.


Toothbrush Sanitizer
Toothbrush Sanitizer

Also, don't waste your money on these brush sanitizers since they don't work according to the CDC. I suppose we should stop conjecturing and just follow what the CDC has to say. It is definitely interesting that hospitals have not given much thought to the issue at all.



Take Away

Nonetheless, the most important thing is to still brush and floss twice a day. Use a mouth rinse as well and don't forget to come in for your 6 month dental check ups with your dentist. You can keep the same toothbrush as when you were sick but if it is close to the 3 month replacement point, you might as well replace it since a new one brushes better anyway! Absolutely no harm in doing so!


Last but not least, make sure you are using the right brushing technique. It is more complicated than you might've expected.


This article is brought to you by Dr David Chen.

David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

Association Memberships:

Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!