It isn’t the first time I’ve heard that toothbrushes may contain some form of fecal matter from bathroom use. I’ve heard the myth before, but never really paid it much mind.
But in early June, researchers from the Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut let some stinky statistics plop: In communal bathrooms with an average of nine Quinnipiac students per bathroom, at least 60 percent of toothbrushes were contaminated with microscopic fecal matter, with an 80 percent chance that the fecal matter didn’t actually belong to the toothbrush owner. Yuck! And this was all regardless of how the students’ toothbrushes were stored. Double yuck!
It’s one matter when you’re dealing with your own germs and bacteria that your body created and is accustomed to. It’s a completely different matter when someone else’s bodily gunk is getting involved. So we’ve compiled a list of steps you can take to greatly reduce the risk of sticking a contaminated toothbrush inside your mouth.
- Close The Toilet Lid Before Flushing
If not, it’s significantly easier for microscopic droplets of contaminated water to shoot up and contaminate the bristles of your toothbrush. This “aerosol effect” can cover up to eight feet of bathroom surface area. And since we’re under the assumption your bathroom is one of the smallest rooms in your house, keep your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as you can.
- Don’t Store Toothbrushes By The Toilet
Even if you are mindful enough to keep the toilet lid closed before flushing, using a communal bathroom means there is no 100 percent guarantee your housemates will extend you the same courtesy. There is no shame in being “that weird roommate who keeps his/her toothbrush in her bedroom,” or anywhere else away from the toilet to reduce risk of fecal matter exposure.
- Sharing Is Not Caring
It sounds like common sense to not share your toothbrush with others. There’s nothing appealing about swapping saliva, blood and unfamiliar bacteria under the guise of maintaining oral hygiene. But it would be wise to be conservative in whatever else you choose to share in the bathroom, including communal hand towels (where in drying your hands you pick up the germs of others before handling your toothbrush) and toothpaste tubes (where the opening of the tube might frequently come into contact with others’ toothbrush bristles).
- Keep Toothbrushes Upright
Storing them in this way will allow water to drain from the bristles, and taking bacteria that thrive in water along with it. If you and your housemates share a toothbrush holder, make sure the brushes are color coded, and the heads kept as far away from each other as possible to reduce cross-contamination.
- Forget About Covers
Although certainly not their intention, toothbrush covers can be just as filthy as leaving your toothbrush near the toilet. Covers make the toothbrush more difficult to air dry, paving the way for bacteria to fester within the wet bristles. And if the covers themselves are not cleaned on a regular basis, they can also harbor those pesky fecal bacteria, and therefore, are not the be all and end all solution for a fecal-free brush.
- Clean It
Rinsing remaining toothpaste between the bristles under hot running tap water is simple enough, but is there anything more that can be done? The American Dental Association states that there is insufficient evidence supporting that soaking a toothbrush in an antibacterial mouth rinse or sanitizer has any effect on oral or systemic health. But they do recommend that if you choose to use a sanitizer, to select one that has already been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- Replace It
If it can fit your budget, cheap disposable toothbrushes may be worth looking into. Otherwise, you might opt to replace your toothbrush every three months or so. Most of us choose to do this only when the bristles become frayed, but replacing it before that will decrease the amount of bacteria found on bristles that you would be regularly putting into your mouth – particularly if you’re recovering from a bacterial illness.