It should be no shock that we have to clean and replace things. Still, many people are surprised to find that they need to replace their toothbrushes - or rather, that they need to replace them so often. Making sure to change out your toothbrush, including an electric toothbrush head, every three months is the minimum to keep your mouth healthy and happy, and here’s why.
Your Toothbrush After 3 Months
After a while of brushing your teeth, your toothbrush will show signs of wear and tear. For most people, toothbrush bristles start to bend and fluff out, or even get ground down. Sometimes, worn bristles fall out or break off pieces.
Using toothbrushes with worn bristles like this is actually unhealthy for your mouth. The toothbrushes are abrasive on your gums by being so fluffed out and warped, becoming scratchy and uneven. This can cause inflammation in your gums by scrubbing them this way, and it can even lead to gum recession if done for too long.
For many people, brushing too hard is a big problem with every toothbrush. You can tell you brush too hard if your toothbrush bristles are warped this way before three months of use. You should change out your toothbrush at any point it starts looking like this, but even if they aren’t worn out-looking, it is still important to change out your toothbrush at the three-month mark!
For more information to determine if you're brushing too hard, click here.
Bacteria likes to build up wherever it can, and bathrooms (where we keep toothbrushes) are big examples of that. Often, we have to scrub toilets and wipe counters to keep things sanitary as well as looking nice.
This type of cleaning translates to oral hygiene. Germs like this are the reason we clean our mouths in the first place. But, just like a sponge, toothbrushes have a cleaning limit. A usefulness limit. After three months, toothbrushes just can’t effectively get rid of the germs in your mouth or on itself.
This comes in part with the worn-out bristles we mentioned earlier. It can end up keeping in bacteria. It also makes it hard to scrub your teeth or dry out properly if it’s out of its packaged shape or if the bristles are starting to come out
Bacteria loves this, both in your mouth and on your brush. If you can’t brush your teeth enough to protect them, bacteria will come back faster. If your brush is damp and fluffy, it can hold in bacteria from your mouth, the air, and whatever else is in the area where you keep your brush.
Because of this bacteria, using a brush too long can have other consequences. You can begin having bad breath and having more plaque left on your teeth. Your toothbrush also, in some circumstances, can become prone to fungal growth. Ew!
The bacteria on your toothbrush is worse after you have any case of sickness, especially one transmitted by coughing or sneezing. Because your mouth is a big area where the germs of your sickness are, they can cling to your toothbrush.
While you should change out your toothbrush every three months, if you’ve been sick, you should change out your toothbrush early. The bacteria in your toothbrush from when you were sick can hang around and potentially keep you sick longer or get you sick again.
Sharing a Toothbrush?
A toothbrush should never be shared for this reason. Bacteria in your mouth itself is crazy in type and in amount, and the toothbrush is what removes that bacteria. You don’t want to mix mouth-scraped-off bacteria with someone!
Even with your spouse or your children, you should keep your toothbrush to yourself. Sharing a toothbrush isn’t like kissing or sharing a fork when eating. When you brush your teeth, you’re scraping away at the surfaces of your mouth so sharing a toothbrush swaps germs more than anything else.
Any illnesses that travel by mouth or nose can spread even more easily this way, because the mouth absorbs things very well. That’s what the mouth is for! Especially if you can have wounds in your mouth, you can easily pick up illnesses this way.
This includes blood-borne illnesses, because toothbrushes and floss can scratch your gums if you use them improperly. This would touch the other individual’s gums directly on a shared toothbrush.
How To Keep Your Toothbrush Clean
Unsurprisingly, many people try to find ways to make their toothbrushes last longer than three months. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually work.
Some people will try to microwave their toothbrushes to zap out the bacteria or boil the brushes to kill the bacteria. While this is a good idea in theory, it actually does more harm than good.
Doing this to actually damages your toothbrush. It makes the bristles of the toothbrush weaker and more likely to break or bend, which we’ve already discussed is bad for your health. It can also fail to get all the bacteria. When done with sponges, this same trick doesn’t always work.
Using extra cleaning agents on your toothbrush is also a no-go. This can be very concerning for your health, because whatever is absorbed by or lingering on the brush is what will go into your mouth. Your mouth and gums will absorb this too and be unhappy. Never use harsh chemicals on a toothbrush that will go back in someone’s mouth.
How you actually keep your toothbrush clean is pretty simple. Toothbrushes should be rinsed thoroughly when you finish brushing, then stored properly.
You need to store your toothbrush in an area that isn’t enclosed. This means it should not be in a toothbrush cover or cap or be left upside down in a cup. Basically, it needs to air dry.
Your toothbrush shouldn’t be left in a place where it can get coated in other bacteria, like by the toilet or close to the floor. If your toothbrush is stored near other used toothbrushes, you should make sure the bristles don’t touch.
For more information on how to keep your toothbrush clean, check out the CDC's statement here.
Signs It's Time to Throw Your Toothbrush Away
If your toothbrush is more than three months used, you should change out your toothbrush. This includes tossing the heads of electric toothbrushes, because they pick up the same amount (if not more) of the mouth and background bacteria. This also includes if you haven’t used the toothbrush steadily in that time. If you used the toothbrush more than a couple of times, and if it had to sit around in the bathroom air between uses, three months is the time limit on those brushes.
If your bristles are showing signs of damage, it’s time to let the brush go. Even if the brush isn’t three months used yet, if it’s damaged, it isn’t doing a good job of cleaning your teeth. It can cause more harm than good if it’s very damaged.
If your toothbrush is holding on to materials or looking weird, especially in coloration, you should throw it away. Bacteria have a sneaky way of making things gross without being obvious, but when it becomes obvious, it’s usually a bad problem.
If your toothbrush has fallen on the gross floor, or especially, into the toilet or the trash, it’s time for it to stay in the trash. That kind of bacteria is really bad for your mouth and your body, so it’s best to let it go.
Sometimes, if you start having bad breath or gum bleeding, you’ll need to change your toothbrush. This can be because you are brushing too hard, the bristles have warped, or that you have the wrong toothbrush for how you brush. You can also talk with a dentist to get recommendations and counsel about your tooth brushing.
Your toothbrush is really important to your dental health, so make sure it’s taken care of to take care of you. Three months is the limit on the time you should be spending with any toothbrush, but if other issues come up, don’t be afraid to throw it away early. Talk with your dentist if you have any questions or concerns about brushing or about toothbrushes, and they can give you more information to keep you informed about your dental health.