We all know a simple toothbrush, used effectively, can have a positive impact on oral health. Habitual use of this simple tool, and floss, can prevent tooth decay and gum disease. But for all the merits this basic hygiene tool has, there is also a murkier side.
One study assessed the microbial contamination of the hard deposit on the toothbrush head, between the bristle tufts, after one and three months of use. A total of 40 toothbrushes were collected from volunteer dental students who were previously examined and found to be free of any oral and systemic disease. Twenty samples were from individuals who had bathrooms with attached toilets, and 20 came from bathrooms without attached toilets.
Ten samples from each group were taken at one month, with the second half taken at three months. Samples were placed in a sterilized environment and incubated for 24 hours.
Microbiological analysis revealed that the 1-month samples from bathrooms without an attached toilet contained streptococcus mutans, candida, pseudomonas, klebsiella, and lactobacilli microorganisms.
Samples from bathrooms with an attached toilet contained all of the same microorganisms as above plus Staphylococcus aureus.
Using the same method, microorganisms found in the 3-month samples from bathrooms with without an attached toilet contained Streptococcus mutans, Candida, Lactobacilli, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus sanguis, and Klebsiella.
The samples from bathrooms with an attached toilet contained all of the above plus E. coli and Sstreptococcus pyogenes.
So what are these bugs, how do they get on your toothbrush, and what can you do to minimize them?
- Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus sanguine and Streptococcuspyogenes:
When you brush your teeth in an attempt to thwart decay, you are in essence, giving these little buggers the brush. Two of these microorganisms are responsible for tooth decay, S. mutans and sanguis. The third, S. pyogenes, is associated with viral infections such as Herpes simplex, the common cold, and influenza. If it’s in your mouth, some strain of sStreptococcus is likely to be found on your brush.
Candida refers to a group of about 20 different strains of fungus. The overgrowth of C. albicans in the mouth can cause a yeast infection known as thrush. According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, there is also a relationship between C. albicans’ and tooth decay. Researchers have not only determined C. albican‘s co-infection practically doubled the number of cavities in the mouth; it appears to be responsible for an increased level of severity of those cavities.
You may know Lactobacilli as that beneficial bacteria found in yogurt. But according to Yale Scientific, the microorganism contains an enzyme that converts “sucrose from food into carbohydrates that allow them to attach themselves to the tooth enamel.” Bacteria similar to Lactobacillus reuteri contribute to tooth decay by using the same enzyme to attach to tooth enamel. This attachment allows the bacteria to position themselves to release acids and break down the calcium in teeth, causing decay.
If you’re healthy, you carry the Pseudomonas bacterial hitchhiker around with no issue. But for those with a compromised immune system, they can be problematic, causing infection, illness and even death. These microorganisms spread via hospital settings, food, and moist environments like your used toothbrush.
Normally found in the digestive tract and in feces, Klebsiella is spread through exposure to an infected person, person-to-person. Though it doesn’t contaminate your toothbrush via air travel, when you flush your toilet or fail to wash your hands after, you can get actual fecal matter on your toothbrush. Disturbing, to say the least.
- Staphylococcus aureus
Responsible for the dreaded staph infection, including MRSA, Staphylococcus aureus is actually a relatively common type of bacteria. Many of us carry it on the surface of our skin or in our nose. Staph infections can be passed on by air, food, through contaminated surfaces, or by an infected person. There are different types of staph infections that range from mildly symptomatic to deadly.
- E. coli
If you look at the study results, you’ll note that E. coli was only found in the samples that included bathrooms with toilets. That’s a really important clue. According to one study that looked at three different types of toilets, when flushed with the cover open, all aerosolized its bio-contents. And the fecal matter was found on everything within a 5- to 6-foot radius. In many instances, that distance will include your toothbrush.
A brush with E. coli could literally and figuratively make you sick. E. coli is associated with gastrointestinal disease and intense diarrhea. Tenacious once established, this bacterium forms colonies that can become resistant to antimicrobial treatments.
We believe education is a vital part of what a holistic dental office provides. We trust once you know what’s on your toothbrush and how it got there, you’ll want to make some changes. If you do, check in here next week for some solid and easy to implement tips.
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