We’ve all heard the alarming claims that leaving your toothbrush in the bathroom, in close proximity to your toilet, exposes it to millions of bacteria, which inevitably end up in your mouth when you brush. Gross. But chances are you’ve continued to leave your toothbrush in the bathroom. And chances are you’ve survived just fine. So is there any true health risk involved? I asked Marc Lowenberg, a dentist in New York City, to weigh in.
“In order for this to be a problem, the bacteria in the bathroom would have to be airborne. Bacteria found in urine and stool are not. So unless you’re scrubbing your toilet bowl with your toothbrush, you’re safe,” says Lowenberg. So we’re safe from poop toothbrushes. Phew. But there might be another gross toothbrush habit to worry about: The only real concern, according to Lowenberg, is sharing toothbrushes. “That’s how you can spread viruses,” he says.
But the main point is that there’s a lot of bacteria on your toothbrush, and that’s not really a bad thing. “There’s more bacteria in your mouth than any other part of your body,” says Lowenberg. “Millions of bacteria live there naturally to keep your mouth homeostatic.” And if you’re keeping up with your regular dental hygiene, you don’t have anything to worry about. “We wash and rinse this bacteria away daily in order prevent buildup between the gum and tooth. If bacteria gets trapped there, oxygen cannot get in, and anerobic bacteria can grow,” he explains. This is the same bacteria that causes bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease.
“In over 30 years of practice, I’ve never heard of anyone with a problem because their toothbrush was kept in the bathroom,” says Lowenberg. But for anyone who’s still genuinely concerned (or genuinely grossed out) by the prospect of keeping your toothbrush near your toilet bowl, there are some best practices to let your inner germophobe rest easy. “Cover the bristles using a plastic cap,” recommends Lowenberg. And don’t forget to wash it every day. “Yes, every single day. The same way you would wash a plate after eating. This is the only way to prevent that funky buildup,” he adds. There are also UV sanitizers (like Violife Zapi Luxe) that zap bacteria in seven minutes (and look adorable on your counter). Or in a pinch, just dip your toothbrush in Listerine or any antiseptic mouthwash. “This will destroy any bacteria buildup that may have occurred since your last brushing,” says Lowenberg.
So consider this is one more thing you can cross off your Things to Worry About/Things That Can Maybe Kill Me lists.
For more on a whiter, brighter smile, read:
• The 10 Commandments of White Teeth
• The Best Teeth-Whitening Tricks That Actually Work
• The Top 4 Teeth-Whitening Innovations