Replacing Your Toothbrush After You've Been Sick

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 whether you had a common cold or the flu, you don't need to toss out your toothbrush after you've recovered.

Toothbrush in cup
Image Source / Getty Images

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

Although it's true that toothbrushes harbor germs, unless your immune system is severely compromised, you don't have to worry about your toothbrush reinfecting you with the same virus.

Even having something as serious as strep throat doesn't present enough of a reason to throw away your toothbrush. One study found that toothbrushes you use while you have strep throat don't continue to harbor the germs you had while sick.

When you get sick, your immune system produces specific antibodies to fight off virus causing your infection. These antibodies remain on hand, protecting you from catching the same virus again. This is why, even after recovering, the cold or flu germs on your toothbrush won't make you sick again.

If you shared a toothbrush holder with someone while you were sick, it's best to err on the side of caution and replace everyone's toothbrushes. Even if you aren’t at risk of being reinfected, other people could still get sick.

What Should You Do?

Many health professionals say that disinfecting is not only unnecessary but can also be harmful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), soaking your toothbrush in disinfecting solutions (including mouthwash) can lead to cross-contamination if you use the solution for too long or if multiple people use the same solution.

Here are some general recommendations according to the American Dental Association (ADA) for keeping your toothbrush as germ-free as possible:

  • Never share your toothbrush or toothpaste. Avoid spreading germs by giving everyone their own toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Rinse your toothbrush after using it. After brushing, rinse your toothbrush under cold running water to remove excess toothpaste and debris
  • Don't soak your toothbrush in disinfecting solutions or mouthwash. This can actually lead to the spread of germs
  • Let your brush air-dry. After rinsing your toothbrush, store it upright in a holder to air dry. Avoid covering your toothbrush or storing it in a closed container. Moist environments are a breeding ground for bacteria
  • Change your toothbrush regularly. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles start to look frayed
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Frazelle MR, Munro CL. Toothbrush contamination: a review of the literature. Nurs Res Pract. 2012;2012:420630. doi:10.1155/2012/420630

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Don't be quick to toss your toothbrush after a sore throat.

  3. Christiaansen A, Varga SM, Spencer JV. Viral manipulation of the host immune response. Curr Opin Immunol. 2015;36:54-60. doi:10.1016/j.coi.2015.06.012

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use & Handling of Toothbrushes.

  5. Toothbrush care, cleaning and replacement. JADA. 2006;137(3):415. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2006.0193

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.