This Is the Safest Way to Store Your Toothbrush

A healthy mouth starts with a safely-stored toothbrush.

We use our toothbrushes multiple times each day, but many of us don't give much thought to how to keep them safe for use. In a 2015 poll, home decor website Houzz revealed that out of nearly 2,500 respondents, almost half leave their toothbrushes in a cup by the sink. The other half is split between using the medicine cabinet (489 people), a drawer (496 people) or "other", usually meaning that it's stored in the shower, according to the poll's comment section (291 people). So, who has it right and who is risking contamination? And is your toothbrush storage as hygienic as it could be?

Based on guidelines provided by the American Dental Association, people storing their toothbrushes in a cup by the sink are actually playing it fairly safe. The ADA indicates that a key component of toothbrush storage is never keeping it in a closed container, but instead allowing the bristles to air-dry upright in the open. This storage method is your best bet for limiting the cross-contamination of harmful microorganisms.

To safely store multiple toothbrushes at home, however, they add the caveat that there should be some physical separation between them to avoid the active spread of germs and bacteria. This means that if you're relying on toothbrush covers for separation, you're doing yourself the dual disservice of (1) not physically separating the toothbrushes and (2) leaving a moist toothbrush covered. These are two of the worst mistakes you can make.

In fact, if you live alone, you're in luck. Cross-contamination with another person's bacteria is the major threat to your health when it comes to toothbrush storage.

According to The American Society for Microbiology, there is little evidence that exposure to our own pathogenic microorganisms is necessarily harmful or dangerous. This remains true even if they've had time to multiply, or in the case of your toothbrush being contaminated with your own fecal matter, as horrifying as that may sound. Their study revealed that roughly 60 percent of tested toothbrushes are indeed exposed to fecal coliforms, regardless of storage method. However, our health only becomes compromised when we are exposed to bacteria that is foreign to our own gut flora. So, in a shared household environment, the primary goal of toothbrush storage should always be isolation from the bacteria of others.

Though our bodies are actually quite good at fighting off much of the bacteria we encounter, it's still worth the effort to practice good health and hygiene. That not only means practicing safe storage, but replacing your toothbrush every three months. So remember: keep your toothbrush isolated, upright, out in the open, and replace frequently to avoid a nasty brush with bacterial illness. And when you want to keep that smile bright, start with the 20 Secrets for Whiter Teeth After 40!

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more