When a cold or flu is spread through a family, scientists are now looking at toothbushes as one of the causes.
"Dental hygienists always speak about the importance of good oral hygiene -- but it's more than just brushing and flossing," said Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS, former president, American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA). "If bacteria from your own mouth, from multiple toothbrushes stored in the same cup, or even bacteria from the bathroom are allowed to build up on the toothbrush you use every day, then the simple act of brushing can propel germs into your bloodstream, possibly triggering infection."
A new product, the Germ Terminator Toothbrush Sanitizer uses steam and dry heat to eliminate 99.9999% of the germs that can live in toothbrush bristles and begin to multiply. Together, steam and heat effectively kill microorganisms like Streptococcus mutans, Staphylococcus aureus, Porphyromonas gingivalis, Herpes simplex virus, and Candida albicans that can be found on toothbrushes.
Researchers have proposed links between lingering colds and sore throats to re-infection from contaminated toothbrushes. They also are finding mounting evidence that bacteria involved in chronic oral infections may play a role in heart attacks, diabetes, and premature births. In a landmark study, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine were able to trace bacteria from the mouth to the bloodstream, and finally the aorta. Once in the aorta, the bacteria lodged to form artery-clogging plaque. According to the principal investigator of the study, the oral cavity is a prime location for bacteria to enter the bloodstream through bleeding that can occur when tooth brushing.
With repeated use, the bristles of a toothbrush can become sharp and -- like tiny needles -- create microscopic cuts that allow germs from the brush to enter the bloodstream -- every time you brush, you could be giving those germs a free ride right into your system. The health impact may not be obvious right away, but we could be causing chronic inflammation or other problems with effects that do not show up until much later," said James Song, inventor of the Germ Terminator.
Even between uses, toothbrush bacteria can be a problem, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Because most families store their toothbrushes in a huddle in the bathroom cabinet or on a countertop, bacteria that can cause oral infections (like gingivitis and more serious gum diseases) can spread from one family member to another through toothbrush contact. Being stored unprotected on countertops or in toothbrush holders, toothbrushes are also vulnerable to contamination from airborne bacteria, such as from a flushing toilet. Scientists commonly find coliform bacteria on toothbrushes. If it enters the bloodstream, E coli can cause serious infection.
"Keeping toothbrushes in closed containers isn't an alternative," Song said. "Closed containers -- like the ones we use for travel -- act like Petri dishes, exacerbating bacteria growth -- which is why sanitizing toothbrushes is so important."
The Germ Terminator's sanitizing action is modeled after the sterilization equipment used in dental offices and is safe, economical, and easy to use. After brushing, just place your manual toothbrush, or power toothbrush heads, in the Germ Terminator and add water -- the Germ Terminator does the rest, first steaming then drying toothbrushes.
"There are no chemicals or other harmful processes; steam and dry heat effectively -- and naturally -- kill germs," Song said. The Germ Terminator takes up only a few inches of counter space so toothbrushes can remain in the Germ Terminator between brushings to keep them sanitized.
"Sometimes it's the simplest ideas -- like understanding the importance of hand washing -- that are truly breakthroughs in public health," Goldie said. "If given a choice, who wouldn't choose a clean toothbrush?"