Kindergarten rules state that you must share. But, despite what you were told at age 5 is sharing always a good idea? As we get older, we may start to question the wisdom of our playground days and wonder where the reasonable limits on sharing really should be. What about toothbrushes? Should you share toothbrushes, and what are the risks involved if you decide to give personal care item sharing a go?
Your Mouth, the Incubator
Your mouth is a warm and moist environment, a perfect environment in which bacteria can grow and thrive. In fact, you are host to an entire ecosystem of bacteria that live on your teeth and gums, feeding on the foods and drinks that you take in every day. Although there are groups of bacteria that are common in all human mouths, your particular mix of oral bacteria is largely unique to you. The bacteria in your mouth don’t just stay in your mouth, however. They transfer to objects you put in your mouth, like your toothbrush.
Are Your Bacteria Safe?
Your oral bacteria may or may not be safe in another mouth. There are a number of bacteria that are associated with cavities and caries formation. If you are regularly fighting a battle against cavities, there’s a good chance you have some of these bacteria growing in your mouth. If you share your toothbrush, you are probably sharing those bacteria as well. If you haven’t had any cavities in quite a while, you have a big incentive to avoid sharing things that could introduce caries causing bacteria into your mouth, not just toothbrushes, but also shared cutlery, straws, cups, and lip balm.
Do Bacteria REALLY Grow on Toothbrushes?
In a word, yes. Of course, toothbrushes are made in such a way to minimize the risk of bacterial overgrowth. Nylon bristles are not an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, but, sadly enough, bacteria can still grow on them and bacteria is definitely transferred to toothbrush bristles during brushing. Natural bristle toothbrushes hold onto even more bacteria more than nylon bristle brushes. If you use a plastic cover, your toothbrush is unlikely to dry completely and grow more bacteria. Replacing brushes every 3-4 months and after you finish a bout of sickness is the best practice to keep your brush healthy.
What About Sharing With Your Significant Other?
Okay, so if you’ve just spend the night exchanging saliva with your significant other, does it really make a difference if you swap those germs again on your toothbrush? Well, it seems a little gross in general to share a toothbrush. There are some private items, like toothbrushes and underwear, that we think of as single user items. Not only does your toothbrush potentially carry bacteria, your brushing technique affects the bristles. Two users are also going to wear the bristles faster and require more regular replacement, assuming both users have excellent technique and haven’t been using a brush with damaged or rough bristles already.
So What Should You do Instead?
In a pinch, consider wiping your tooth surfaces with a clean, soft cloth, use water, saltwater, or a rinse to rinse your mouth well, and swing by the nearest drugstore or convenience store for a quick and inexpensive replacement.