Properly using your toothbrush is your most important daily hygiene habit. Brushing removes not just food particles but more importantly a sticky bacteria colony that we call plaque. Left to harden, plaque turns into deposits of tartar or calculus that lead to gingivitis, say the hygienists at the office of Southfield dentist Dr. Mark W. Langberg, DDS, MAGD. Gingivitis is characterized by irritated, infected gums that swell and bleed. If left untreated, infected gums will spread to the surrounding bone, developing into periodontal (gum) disease which contributes to other systemic illnesses (heart disease, diabetes, etc.) and tooth loss.
Using an old brush makes cleansing less effective. The bent bristles can’t reach between the teeth or below the gum line and they harbor germs. Replace your toothbrush as soon as you see that the bristles are no longer standing up perfectly straight. This may be as soon as monthly! I typically tell patients to buy cheaper brushes that they are comfortable changing more often vs. an expensive brush that practically becomes a family heirloom before it is thrown out. Alternating between two brushes each morning and night will allow toothbrushes to air dry between uses, reducing bacterial growth and makes each brush last longer.
After brushing, rinse toothbrushes with tap water, fanning the bristles with your fingers to wash away debris, bacteria and any remaining toothpaste. Tap vigorously against the side of the sink to remove excess moisture that promotes the growth of microorganisms. Store the brush standing upright. Do not put covers on the toothbrushes or store them in an enclosed container. Keep brushes away from one another to avoid cross-contamination. And don’t forget to clean the toothbrush holder with soap and hot water every few days.
If the handle gets cracked or bristles start to come loose, it’s time to replace your brush. A damaged brush can hurt gums and other soft tissue in the mouth. These abrasions can lead to canker sores and gum recession. Parents should check their kids’ brushes often. Their brushes take a lot of abuse and tend not to stay in shape as long as brushes used by adults.
You can soak brushes for a short time in a capful of antimicrobial mouthwash or dilute hydrogen peroxide to freshen the brush and kill bacteria. Rinse and tap away excess moisture. Let air dry.
There are a few commercial toothbrush sanitizers available that reduce the amount of bacteria on brushes, but studies show that they do not eliminate all germs. They are an option, but to be totally honest, data has not yet proven that they provide a specific and significant health benefit. So, it might just be better to rinse your brushes well, alternate between 2 brushes so each has enough time to thoroughly dry and generally just replace them OFTEN.
Need a new brush? Kill two birds with one stone! Schedule a dental checkup at the office of Dr. Mark W. Langberg, DDS, MAGD, at 248-356-8790, and we’ll send you home with a new toothbrush and some floss too!
Until next time,
Dr. Mark W. Langberg, DDS, MAGD,
26206 West 12 Mile Road, Suite 303
Southfield, MI 48034