Replacing Your Toothbrush After You've Been Sick

Toothbrushes in a cup.
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You have undoubtedly heard the recommendation from various sources that you should always replace your toothbrush after you have had a cold, the flu, or virtually any other illness. Is this really necessary, especially if you have kids who have frequent colds?

You might think it makes sense because the germs that cause your illness will contaminate the toothbrush when you use it. You may worry that you will reinfect yourself when you use it once you have recovered. The good news is that it doesn't work that way.

Why You Shouldn't Worry About Lingering Germs on Your Toothbrush

Although it's true that toothbrushes may harbor some germs, It is unlikely that you will get sick again if you don't change your toothbrush after an illness.

Our bodies have a natural defense system against germs called the immune system. You are exposed to bacteria, viruses, and other germs constantly but your immune system is able to fight off a majority of them and they don't make us sick most of the time.

In fact, your immune system specifically mounts a response to a cold or flu by producing antibodies against the invading virus. These antibodies keep you from catching the same cold or flu twice. Therefore, the cold or flu germs on your toothbrush after your illness won't reinfect you. The same goes for many other germs on your toothbrush.

Your mouth naturally contains many bacteria that do not produce disease. However, they contribute to tooth decay if they are allowed to grow on your teeth for many hours. Brushing your teeth dislodges them so the acid they produce doesn't harm your tooth enamel. After brushing, most are rinsed off when you rinse your toothbrush, and any lingering ones shouldn't cause you any harm.

What Should You Do?

The American Dental Association (ADA) has these recommendations about the use and care of your toothbrush:

  • Change your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if the bristles start to look frayed. Kids may need to have new brushes more often than that because they tend to be a little harder on them than adults.
  • People with compromised or weakened immune systems may want to consider changing toothbrushes more often, including after illnesses.
  • Rinse your toothbrush with tap water after use and store it upright until air-dry.
  • Do not cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container. This promotes the growth of microorganisms.
  • Do not share toothbrushes.

The ADA does not recommend the use of any disinfecting or sanitizing products for toothbrushes. However, if you choose to use one, look for one that has been cleared by the FDA and does not make any extreme claims. No products available to consumers can actually "sterilize" a toothbrush and you should be wary of any such claims.

Soaking your toothbrush in an antibacterial mouth rinse after use may reduce the number of bacteria on the brush. Although this hasn't been shown to improve health or decrease your chances of getting sick, it won't hurt. Just be sure to check your toothbrush regularly for signs of wear and replace it as needed.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Dental Association. Cold and flu season: 5 ways to care for your mouth when you're sick.

  2. American Dental Association. 10 things you didn't know about your toothbrush.

  3. American Dental Association. Toothbrushes. Updated February 26, 2019.

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