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If you are brushing and flossing your pearly whites diligently daily, you are doing your part to remove bacteria and plaque which can cause tooth decay and gum disease. So how do you care for your toothbrush, since it’s such a vital part of your oral health care?

The mouth is home to millions of bacteria, or microorganisms, and that is easily transferred to your toothbrush. In addition to bacteria, as your toothbrush cleans plaque from your mouth, it can become contaminated by saliva, blood, oral debris and toothpaste.

Since bacteria grow in warm, moist places, covering your toothbrush or storing it in a closed receptacle can encourage bacterial growth. The best way to minimize bacterial growth is to let your toothbrush air-dry after using, in a cup or holder that keeps it from touching other toothbrushes or anything that will block air from reaching the bristles.

The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months. You can replace it sooner if you habitually chew on the bristles and they end up frayed. Both the ADA and the Council on Scientific Affairs advise the following on caring for your toothbrush:

Don’t share your toothbrush! It is not safe to exchange body fluids and bacteria between users. You can be susceptible to an infection, especially if you have a compromised immune system or one of you has an infectious disease.

After you brush your teeth, store it in a cup or container that allows it to stand upright and the bristles are not touching anything. This allows it to air dry until your next use. If you are sharing a container with someone else, don’t let the bristles touch. You don’t want to cross-contaminate.

While there are products on the market that allow you to cover your toothbrush, the ADA advises against it. A closed container is a moist breeding ground for germs. Air drying is safer. It is fine if you are traveling, but for regular day-to-day use, allow the bristles to air dry.

With daily brushing, your toothbrush bristles will eventually fray, wear down and lose their shape, making them less effective at cleaning. Replace them sooner than three months when this happens, or you will risk improper cleaning.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advises against disinfecting your toothbrush in your dishwasher or microwave as this will damage the brush, making it less effective. You can clean your toothbrush by soaking it in an antibacterial mouthwash to help lower the amount of germs.

Take good care of your oral health and your toothbrush as it works hard to care for your teeth. If you have any questions you can reach Dr. Jacob Shrayman’s team at 973-239-3555.