Is Your Toothbrush Routine Making You Sick?

Here’s how to keep germs off your toothbrush (and out of your mouth).

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Your toothbrush is essential for preventing cavities, gum disease, and plaque buildup. However, the same tool that gets all the nasties from your mouth may also introduce new bacteria, if you’re not careful.

A safe amount of bacteria is bound to build up on those bristles, but you’ll want to take a few steps to ensure your toothbrush doesn’t become a hotspot for germs with a free ticket into your body. Here’s how to properly care for your toothbrush to minimize bacteria growth.

  1. Rinse well under the faucet after using. While some companies have made cleansing products designed to disinfect your toothbrush, this isn’t necessary, according to the American Dental Association. Simply run the faucet over the bristles to clean out all toothpaste and food particles.

  2. Prop it upright and let it air dry. Experts agree that giving the toothbrush space to breathe is the best way to store it to minimize bacteria growth. Just be sure to not let it touch other brushes (or the wall, mirror, or faucet).

  3. Don’t use a toothbrush cap or travel case. It’s tempting to want to put a barrier around your bristles and the rest of the bathroom, but resist. Yes, you’ll want to cover the bristles while traveling, but this is only a short-term solution. For everyday use, let it air dry. A study in the New York State Dental Journal found covering your brush with a cap led to growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and other pathogenic microorganisms, which the authors say could lead to infection.

  4. Replace your toothbrush every three or four months. Even if you’re following all the right guidelines, germs will build up and you’ll need to swap in a fresh brush.

  5. Don’t share your toothbrush. Yeah, it goes against everything you learned in kindergarten, but your toothbrush is one thing you’ll want to be selfish with. Infections can easily jump from one person to another through a shared toothbrush, and if one person gets blood on the brush, that can leave behind dangerous viruses.

For more teeth-saving tips, here are the worst candies for your teeth.