Brushing regularly will help you maintain a healthy smile. But that smile won't last long if you don't take proper care of your toothbrush and switch to a new one more frequently. According to the American Dental Association, toothbrushes can become infested with bacteria. These germs come from the mouth and can accumulate in the bristles of a toothbrush over time. Additionally, even a fresh toothbrush—one that's right out of the box—can contain bacteria because the packaging is not sterilized.
If you are like many Americans, chances are you switch to a new brush only once or twice a year. The ADA, however, recommends using a clean, new toothbrush every three to four months or once the bristles are frayed. (Some toothbrush brands, such as Oral B, feature brushes with bristles that fade or change color to indicate that it's time for a replacement.) Children's toothbrushes may need to be replaced more frequently.
During those three to four months of use, there are several ways you can keep a toothbrush clean. But be careful whose advice you follow. Some people advise running the toothbrush through a microwave oven on high for 10 seconds to kill any germs. Other sources recommend running the brush through a dishwasher. But the ADA cautions that these cleaning methods can damage a toothbrush. "I wouldn't recommend anything like that," says Matthew Messina, an ADA consumer adviser in the Cleveland area. "You don't want to deform the toothbrush." Heating it in the microwave can adversely affect the plastic and the bristles.
A better way of caring for a toothbrush is to use sanitizers. Check the labels to make sure the products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and be skeptical of products that claim to do more than clean the bacteria off your toothbrush, the ADA says.
There is no need to be paranoid. Studies haven't confirmed that the bacteria that grow in a toothbrush are harmful to your health. That said, here are some other "common sense" tips for caring for your toothbrush: Don't share toothbrushes. Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly with tap water after use, making sure to remove any toothpaste and debris. Store your toothbrush in an upright position, and let it air dry.