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Tuesday 21, January 2020
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Having a brush with bacteria?

By keeping your toothbrush clean, you can save yourself from plenty of health issues

Dr Sahira Sandhu

As gross as it sounds, the human mouth contains about 100 million microbes per milliliter of saliva. Those microbes eat the same food you do, and when you brush, food particles and bacteria stick to your toothbrush. The unhappy result is an overgrowth of germs on your brush. Therefore, taking precautions to ensure that you don’t get sick from the ‘bad’ bacteria is a recommended course of action. Here’s what you can do:

Don’t brush where you flush

Where you store your toothbrush in your bathroom is important. In most bathrooms, the toilet is very close to the sink, where most people keep their toothbrushes. Every time you flush, bacteria are released into the air and you don’t want that bacteria to get on your toothbrush.

It’s just common sense to store your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as possible. Keep it in a medicine cabinet if possible, and always close the toilet lid before flushing to minimise the spread of bacteria onto your toothbrush.

Wash your hands

Throughout the day, your hands come in contact with a number of germs. The simplest way to ensure you aren’t spreading these germs is to wash your hands. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands before brushing your teeth.

Toothbrush holders

Toothbrush holders as well can pick up bacteria that are spread by toilet flushing. Holders are the third-most germy household items (after dish sponges and kitchen sinks). Remember to clean your toothbrush holder regularly to remove germs.

Keep your toothbrush clean

Now that you are sufficiently revolted, are you ready to start treating your brush a little better? Here’s what to do to keep your toothbrush as bacteria-free as possible.

Get a new one: Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or more often if bristles become frayed, if you are sick, or if you have a weakened immune system. For an electric toothbrush, replace the head as frequently as you would a regular disposable brush.

Use the right toothpaste: While most toothpastes do kill germs, some are better than others. Toothpastes with triclosan/copolymer are better than regular fluoride toothpastes at killing oral bacteria.

Don’t share: Don’t share brushes! No matter how conscious you are about cleaning, you will never be able to remove all the bacteria. If you want to be really safe, it’s better to have different tubes of toothpaste for family members. If you are a family that shares, when you squeeze the toothpaste onto brushes, do not press the paste opening to the brushes. Instead, it’s better to lay the toothpaste over the brush without physically contacting the toothpaste opening.

Clean your bristles: Occasionally soak toothbrushes in hydrogen peroxide or mouthwashes with antibacterial agents, especially if you’ve dropped it on the floor. Clean your toothbrush bristles by rinsing your toothbrush in tap water or even washing with antibacterial soap.

Don’t use plastic containers Do you store your toothbrush in an airtight container? Don’t. The toothbrush can’t dry out between brushing, which encourages mold growth. Also, if you store all the family toothbrushes together in one container, the bacteria can spread from one to the other if the heads are touching.

Keep them moisture-free After you have used your toothbrush and rinsed it, store it in an upright position in order to keep the moisture away.

Use toothbrush sanitisers

There are products available that claim to sanitise your toothbrush. Some use ultraviolet light, sprays or rinses. There are even brushes with built-in antibacterial bristles. While some of these products do kill some germs, there is no evidence using them will reduce your risk of illness.

Practice oral care

Brushing and flossing as often as possible, and rinsing your mouth with an antibacterial mouthwash before you brush eliminates bacteria before they get onto your toothbrush.

(Dr Sandhu is a Chandigarh-based prosthodontics)

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