Do You Really Need to Replace Your Toothbrush After You've Been Sick?
A family medicine doc shares her advice.
In the days after you've recovered from a nasty bug, you probably have a germ-ridding routine: washing your sheets and towels, scrubbing your mugs and water bottle, and likely, tossing your toothbrush.
But is getting rid of your toothbrush really necessary to keep germs from spreading?
It turns out there's no definitive rule, says Neha Vyas, MD, a family medicine doctor at the Cleveland Clinic. Germs could potentially live on toothbrushes for up to a few days. "But there isn't enough evidence in the scientific literature to show that, as a result, they cause disease in people," she explains.
The fact is, the odds that you'd reinfect yourself are slim to nil, because when your immune system fights off a bug, it develops antibodies to keep it from coming back. As for the people who share your sink? They're probably safe as well, as long as they don't use your toothbrush (ew) or store theirs right next to yours.
All of that said, your bout with the bacteria or virus weakened your immune system, and given the fact that there are many other types of bugs that could infect you anew, starting fresh with a pristine, germ-free toothbrush isn't a terrible idea, Dr. Vayas says.
Toss the old one within a few days of your recovery, she suggests. "And if you are immunocompromised in any way—you’re being treated for cancer or have an underlying immunologic disorder—then it would certainly help to discard your toothbrush immediately after you recover from an illness."
Think about your toothpaste too. Dirty fingers or a dirty brush could pass harmful microbes to the rim of the tube. "If someone in your family is ill, they should consider using their own tube in order to prevent cross-contamination," she says.
In sickness and in health, toothbrushes should be replaced every three to four months (or sooner, if the bristles are badly frayed or you have gum diseases or any oral or tongue lesions or infections). And always practice good toothbrush hygiene in the meantime: "The best way to care for your toothbrush is to shake it vigorously under running water after brushing. Make sure all toothpaste and food particles are removed from the brush," Dr. Vyas advises. "Then, place it upright in a toothbrush holder—and make sure it does not touch other toothbrushes."
If you've been using a cover, ditch it, Dr. Vyas adds. Covering the bristles may make it easier for germs to settle on them; and in that dark, moist case, they are likely to thrive.
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