Gross–Toothbrushes in Communal Bathrooms Contaminated with Fecal Organisms
As we send our children off to college this year, we may not like to think too closely about the experience of living in dorms. Especially after a new study has confirmed that toothbrushes used in communal bathrooms have fecal bacteria on them–and it’s likely it came from other people!
Determining the Presence of Organisms
In this study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, researchers analyzed toothbrushes used in communal bathrooms with an average of 9.4 occupants per bathroom.
Although toothbrushes were stored in a variety of ways, at least 60% of them were contaminated by fecal organisms, known as coliforms. These included bacteria that are normal in our gut, but can lead to illness if introduced into the mouth. Toothbrush users were asked about how they cleaned and stored their toothbrushes after use. It was found that cold rinse, hot rinse, and even rinse with mouthwash had no effect on the presence of coliforms on the toothbrush.
Where contamination was present, researchers estimate that there’s an 80% chance the fecal coliforms came from someone other than the toothbrush owner.
How to Care for Your Toothbrush
If you are in a dorm or if you know someone living in a dorm, researchers recommended the following tips from the American Dental Association to help reduce the risk of toothbrush contamination.
Never share toothbrushes because this significantly increases the risk of contamination between individuals. People often have very different oral bacteria, and the introduction of different species can lead to more serious gum disease and tooth decay.
Thoroughly rinse toothbrush and let air dry. It’s important to remove all the toothpaste and debris from your toothbrush after using it. Anything left on the toothbrush will encourage the growth of bacteria. Rinse with tap water. Other rinses may damage the toothbrush, creating more places for bacteria to shield themselves.
Do not regularly cover toothbrush. Although it’s normal for people using a communal bathroom to use a toothbrush carrying case to transport and store their toothbrush, this can foster more bacterial growth because it keeps the toothbrush moist for longer, and bacteria thrive in the moist, dark environment.
Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months. Most people don’t replace their toothbrush often enough. Replacing your toothbrush regularly limits the bacterial growth and contamination. Also, remember to replace your toothbrush after you are sick, or, if you share a communal bathroom, after other people have suffered illness, including lower digestive tract illness.
Professional cleanings are also crucial to controlling contamination of your mouth. Your hygienist will remove calcium deposits known as tartar that can harbor large bacterial populations, increasing your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. In addition, your dentist can examine your teeth and gums for problems so they can be addressed before they become serious.