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Can germs spread between touching toothbrushes?
Q: I have four children between the ages of 3 and 9. In the morning and before bedtime, the bathroom is crazy with everyone washing up and brushing teeth at the same time. When I come into the bathroom afterward, I notice all the toothbrushes piled on top of each other. Can the toothbrushes spread germs?
Mary Ann Salem
A: It's great that your children brush their teeth every morning and evening. This helps keep their teeth and gums healthy, and prevents tooth decay and gingivitis. But toothbrushes can spread germs. Since they are moist and have food on them, they are excellent environments for germs. Studies have found that germs such as strep, staph, flu and herpes can survive on toothbrushes. If the children use each other's toothbrushes, or their toothbrushes touch each other, the germs can pass from one child to another.

The following precautions can help prevent the spread of germs from toothbrushes:

  • Make sure each child has his own toothbrush. Each child needs to identify his own toothbrush by its special color, design or label. Make sure they use their own toothbrush and don't share.
  • Store the toothbrushes bristle up, open to the air and not touching each other. It's best not to store toothbrushes with a cover or in the medicine cabinet, since the moistness and darkness breed germs. Store the brushes bristles up, in an individual cup or a toothbrush holder on the counter or wall. The cup or holder should keep each child's toothbrush from touching the bristles of another. Even when the children are rushed, make sure they replace their brushes in the proper cup or holder rather than throwing them in a pile on the counter. And remember to clean the holder or cups frequently.
  • Replace the toothbrushes regularly. The American Dental Association recommends replacing toothbrushes every three to four months, or more often if the bristles get frayed. Many dentists also recommend replacing the toothbrush after an illness.
For more information on dental health, visit the American Dental Association website, www.ada.org.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician