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Is it bad to share a toothbrush? And other toothbrush facts.

Updated: May 2

Sharing toothbrushes. Some do it occasionally, some think it is gross. Either way, it happens more often than you think. Is it a good idea? What are the risks? We’ll dive into what lives in your mouth and on your toothbrush and whether that should be shared, even if only occasionally.

What lives in your mouth? The mouth is home to millions of bacteria, blood, saliva, and food debris, which also end up living on your toothbrush. The mix of bacteria in the mouth is unique to each person. When you use someone else’s toothbrush, even a member of your family, it introduces you to their unique blend of bacteria. Their blend may not react well with yours, and can increase your risk for catching a cold, the flu, or other germs.

Other than bacteria, it is not uncommon for gums to bleed when brushing teeth, flossing, or if a gum disease is present. For this reason, small particulates of blood can be on a person’s toothbrush. If someone has a disease, sharing a toothbrush can spread the disease from one person to another.

Normal bacteria exchange. Parents and children, partners, and friends all exchange bacteria regularly by kissing, holding hands, and sharing food, drinks, and toys. This is normal. To prevent spreading germs, hand wash regularly, use mouthwash, and don't share a toothbrush.

Caring for your toothbrush. After brushing your teeth, the American Dental Association (ADA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend rinsing your toothbrush with tap water to remove the plaque and other debris. This does not remove the bacteria and other contamination, but it helps keep it to a minimum for the 3-4 months you use the toothbrush.

Toothbrushes should be air dried after each use and stored in an upright position without touching other toothbrushes. It is not recommended that you soak your toothbrush in mouthwash or other disinfecting solutions, which can actually cause germs to spread. Do not put toothbrushes in the microwave or dishwasher either. This only damages your toothbrush and its ability to clean teeth effectively.

What if you forget your toothbrush? If you forgot your toothbrush at brushing time, you have other options to temporarily clean your teeth.

  • Use a napkin or paper towel wrapped around your finger and rub it on your teeth and tongue. You can even add toothpaste or baking soda.

  • Mouthwash will help rinse food from your teeth and kills the bacteria in your mouth that causes bad breath and cavities.

  • Chew sugarless gum to help remove food and tartar from your teeth.

  • Eat crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples, celery, cucumbers, and carrots to help scrape tartar and plaque off teeth.

  • Drink lots of water, which keeps the mouth moist so your body can produce saliva. Swishing with water will help remove food and bacteria from your mouth.

The bottom line. It’s important to remember that good oral hygiene plays a critical role in healthy teeth, gums, and overall health. Use other options to clean your teeth if you forget your toothbrush to keep your mouth in the best condition.

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