Patients can take steps to keep their toothbrushes clean but some creative methods may actually do more harm than good, says a Chicago dentist.
"I think that many patients have become much more conscious of their toothbrush and the fact that it can become a repository for germs," explains Terri Tiersky, D.D.S., J.D., a general dentist. "It's important for patients to remember that toothbrushes have a certain life span and should be thrown away more frequently than in the past--usually at three months. Bristles can become worn down and are then less effective in cleaning teeth anyway."
Dr. Tiersky notes that toothbrushes are not sterile instruments and are thrust into the oral cavity--essentially a contaminated atmosphere--several times per day, if the brusher is conscientious. "I would recommend that patients place their toothbrushes in glasses that contain mouthrinse with alcohol to kill germs," says Dr. Tiersky. "There should be only one toothbrush per glass and the mouthrinse needs to be changed every other day or so. This method should keep germs to a minimum."
Dr. Tiersky notes that she has heard some very interesting methods of sterilizing toothbrushes. "A 12-year-old girl conducted a science project in which she placed the toothbrush in the dishwasher," says Dr. Tiersky. "This method probably kills germs but I think the intense heat in the dishwasher causes more wear and tear on the brush, so that bristles become splayed out and going all over the place. You would end up replacing the brush more often anyway."
Another method is placing the brush in the microwave. "This method really sounds great but the pad containing the bristles usually is stapled to the brush and holds it in place," she says. "The metal in the staple can distort the microwaves and do some serious damage to your microwave oven."
Sprays are marketed to disinfect brushes. "So far, I'm not really impressed with these but they have great promise," she says.
The most logical solution, says Dr. Tiersky, is to simply change brushes more often. "Americans change their brushes only once every nine months while Japanese consumers change their brushes every 3.1 months," she says. "Toothbrushes generally should not be kept in one cup or close together as is generally the custom in this country. I recommend that patients who have had colds or influenza change after their illnesses to avoid infecting other family members or reinfecting themselves. People who are immune-compromised should change brushes as often as once a week."
The change will do you good, says Dr. Tiersky. "There is a wide variety of brushes from which to choose, and most are less expensive than a large order of french fries," she says. "It's worth the investment."
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