When you finish cleaning your teeth each morning and evening, do you pay attention to where you store your toothbrush in between cleans?

Perhaps you have on old mug by the sink that acts as container for all of your family’s brushes, or maybe you place it back in the bathroom cabinet, alongside your razor and eau de toilette. The shelf by the windowsill is yet another popular toothbrush storage point – but we should give a little bit more thought to where we lay this tooth-cleaning tool, especially in the light of research detailed in a new study.

It has been discovered that standard toothbrushes can act as a breeding ground for a whole range of potentially dangerous diseases. This is because, in the damp arena of the bathroom, there is huge opportunity for a raft of organisms to make the bristles of your toothbrush their home. But how did the researchers discover just how infested our toothbrushes can become over time when they aren’t stored in a clean environment?

Toothbrush flush

The bathrooms of the halls of residence at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut were put under scrutiny during the study – all toothbrushes were collected for analysis. The study revealed that the bathrooms were used by an average of 9.4 people a day – more than the average Australian home, perhaps, but the impression remains.

It was discovered that some 60 per cent of the toothbrushes contained traces of fecal coliforms – bacteria that comes from, yes, the solid human waste. How does such matter get there? The is a multitude of reasons – but the flushing of a toilet can fling tiny particles into the air, and what goes up, must come down – right onto your toothbrush. Contaminated hands and other surfaces can also lead to a toothbrush teeming with bacteria.

“The main concern is not with the presence of your own fecal matter on your toothbrush, but rather when a toothbrush is contaminated with fecal matter from someone else, which contains bacteria, viruses or parasites that are not part of your normal flora,” explains Lauren Aber, of Quinnipiac University.

Keeping it clean

So how can you be totally sure that your toothbrush is clean each and every time you come to scrub your pearly whites? First and foremost, you should replace your toothbrush at least once every three months – nothing is cleaner than a fresh bristle.

Soaking your brush in mouthwash can help eradicate bacteria from the bristles. Also, by placing your toothbrush in boiling water for a few minutes, you’ll surely kill all germs living on it – though this technique can shorten the lifespan of your brush.

Additionally, you should look to keep your toothbrush where germs and bacteria can’t get to it – which means the bathroom could be out of the equation. Why not store it in a pencil case in your bedroom, or a spare toiletries bag? You should also get rid of your toothbrush after recovering from illness, as you don’t want to re-home those germs back into your system!