Since our mouths contain bacteria and the bathroom does as well, it's common to wonder if your toothbrush stays clean enough with just a rinse after brushing, especially since some products now claim to sanitize. Toothbrush sanitizing, however, is not the same as sterilizing. Sanitation means 99.9 percent of bacteria are reduced. With sterilization, all living organisms are destroyed.
But is a sanitizing of your toothbrush a necessity or a preference?
What the American Dental Association Recommends
According to the American Dental Association, no commercial products can sterilize a toothbrush and it's not necessary. The ADA notes, "There is insufficient clinical evidence to support that bacterial growth on toothbrushes will lead to specific adverse oral or systemic health effects."
Bacteria tends to grow in dark, warm and moist places. Keeping your toothbrush covered or stored in a closed container might lead to problems. Let your toothbrush air dry in a holder that allows it to stand up without touching the bristles or other toothbrushes. Replacing your toothbrush every three-to-four months is also important. Avoid sharing toothbrushes as well.
Keeping it Clean
Most of us simply rinse the toothbrush head once we're done brushing. But a more thorough rinse in warm water ensures that food debris and leftover toothpaste won't remain in the bristles.
While the ADA notes there is no clinical evidence that soaking a toothbrush in antibacterial mouthwash has a positive effect, it won't damage your toothbrush. If you want to sanitize, toothbrush heads should be immersed for about 15 minutes in mouthwash. Any longer could damage the bristles. And don't share or reuse that mouthwash, it defeats the purpose.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises against using your dishwasher or microwave to disinfect toothbrushes. The CDC even includes ultraviolet devices on the list of things that may damage the toothbrush.
If someone in your family is sick or is at a higher risk of infection, taking some preventive steps may help guard against a problem. Replacing toothbrushes more often, buying disposable toothbrushes and using antibacterial mouthwash to rinse and soak could offer some benefit. If you choose to try a UV toothbrush sanitizer, the product should be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Keep in mind that a UV sanitizer will not remove all germs. Because the ultraviolet light may deteriorate the bristles, you should inspect and replace your toothbrush more often.