Some Electric Toothbrushes May Harbor 3000 Times More Bacteria

Sep 03, 2014, by Dr. Becky Coats

It’s always nice to see research from an alma mater, such as the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry, where I spent two years in an advanced general dentistry residency. This current published research looks into the impact the design of a toothbrush has on the ability of microorganisms to thrive, finding that hollow-head electric toothbrushes are more hospitable to microorganisms and may contain up to 3000 times more oral bacteria than solid-head designs.

Organisms Thrive on Hollow Toothbrushes

To determine how well microorganisms thrived on the different toothbrushes, researchers assigned participants to use one of three different designs. They used the toothbrushes for a period of three weeks. Although they used fluoride toothpaste, they weren’t allowed to use antibacterial products like mouthwash or certain toothpastes. At the end of the study, they evaluated the population of five different types of microorganisms on the toothbrushes:

  • Anaerobes (organisms that don’t need oxygen–they often “breathe” sulfur and contribute to bad breath) and facilitating organisms
  • Yeast and mold (which can cause thrush, and other minor infections)
  • Oral streptococci and enterococci (this category contains many of the big baddies behind cavities, gum disease, and root canal failure)
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis (connected to gum disease. Some research suggests this bacterium has no place in a healthy mouth)
  • Fusobacterium species (linked to gum disease and colorectal cancer)

In all five categories, microorganism populations were significantly higher on the hollow-head toothbrush design than the solid brush design.

A Cause for Alarm?

Of course, it’s hard to know whether this particular finding has significant ramifications for our health. It is troubling to know that these toothbrushes foster larger populations of some potentially very nasty microorganisms, but we don’t know about the ramifications for oral health.

The lead researcher from UTHealth, Donna Warren Morris, says, “Toothbrushes can transmit microorganisms that cause disease and infections. A solid-head design allows for less growth of bacteria and bristles should be soft and made of nylon. It is also important to disinfect and to let your toothbrush dry between uses. Some power toothbrushes now include an ultraviolet system or you can soak the head in mouthwash for 20 minutes.” It is good to know that sterilization methods for toothbrushes are readily available, but are they necessary?

The UTHealth press release acknowledges “there is no present or published study that has demonstrated that bacterial growth on toothbrushes can lead to systematic health effects.”  In other words, we’re not sure at this point how much of an impact a dirty toothbrush may have on your oral or overall health. So, although this is something to be aware of, for now it’s not necessary for you to change your toothbrush, and currently the CDC doesn’t recommend regularly sterilizing your toothbrush.

If you want to learn more about how to maintain optimal oral health, please call 817-442-3331 today for an appointment with a Grapevine dentist at Grapevine Dental Care.