Dentists recommend that you clean your teeth for at least 120 seconds twice a day. Good brushing techniques protect your teeth and gums, but it's also important to choose and use the right products. Toothbrush sanitizers are increasingly popular with consumers, but many people are unsure if they need to invest in these gadgets. Find out if you will benefit from a toothbrush sanitizer, and learn more about steps you can take to keep your toothbrush germfree.

What's lurking on your toothbrush?

Studies show that your toothbrush is probably not as clean as you would hope. Indeed, for people who share bathrooms, toothbrushes could yield some nasty surprises. A study by the American Society for Microbiology found that 60 percent of students' toothbrushes showed traces of fecal matter. Even worse, the researchers found that, in most cases, the contaminant did not come from the toothbrush's owner.

Other studies have looked at the microorganisms you can find on toothbrushes. Your mouth is home to millions of these organisms, so it's unsurprising that some germs end up on your toothbrush. More surprisingly, research also shows that microorganisms can end up on your toothbrush straight from the packaging because the manufacturers do not produce these products in sterile conditions.

The risk from contamination

Before you start to panic, it's important to consider the risk these contaminants can pose. Despite the evidence that shows how easily germs can contaminate your toothbrush, scientists also acknowledge that it is hard to substantiate any claim that bacteria on your toothbrush can cause any adverse health issues.

As things stand, there isn't enough clinical evidence to suggest you are at high risk from a contaminated toothbrush, but most consumers agree that the idea of germs and other contaminants on a toothbrush is very unpleasant.

So can toothbrush sanitizers offer a solution?

The effect of toothbrush sanitizers

Consumers can now buy several brands of toothbrush sanitizer. These devices use different methods to kill germs left on your toothbrush. Some devices use ultraviolet light, while other products use steam and dry heat. These sanitizers also give you a place to store your toothbrush, so you don't have to worry about other contaminants.

The US Food and Drug Administration regulates the sale of all medical devices. The manufacturers of toothbrush sanitizers must prove to the FDA that they can substantiate any germ-killing claims they make about their products. Nonetheless, even FDA-approved sanitizers generally only make claims that they can sanitize or cut bacterial contamination. To guarantee no bacteria, the devices would have to sterilize the toothbrush, and no devices currently offer this benefit.

The American Dental Association (ADA) does not recommend against the use of toothbrush sanitizers, but the ADA warns people that these products cannot kill all germs. What's more, with these devices, you may actually need to replace the toothbrush more often, as sanitizers can damage the brush.

Other steps you can take

The ADA recommends a number of simple steps you can take to cut the risk of toothbrush contamination. Preventive measures you can take include:

  • Never share toothbrushes
  • Replace toothbrushes (or toothbrush heads) every three to four months
  • Rinse the brush after use with tap water and allow to air-dry

Some people also use special toothbrush covers, which give you a physical barrier against contaminants. These covers may actually do more harm than good. If you put your toothbrush in a covered container, you may create conditions that allow bacteria to thrive, so avoid using these covers.

Toothbrush sanitizers can help reassure customers that they can protect their toothbrushes from contamination, but it's important to understand these devices' limitations. Other sensible precautions can help you keep your toothbrush clean, without spending more money. Ask your dentist for more ways to protect your mouth.