According to a dentist, it is some advice you, unfortunately, shouldn’t ignore. “Toothbrush covers trap in bacteria from the mouth that get on the toothbrush after brushing,” says Jonelle Anamelechi, DDS, a board-certified pediatric dentist and the owner of Children’s Choice Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics. “It’s like a mini oven (a breeding ground) for bacteria by creating a warm and cozy environment.”
She adds the bacteria can form in the cover in minutes—depending on the type of bacteria—so even a quick car ride with a toothbrush cover on isn’t in your best interest.
The risks that come with toothbrush covers
Some bacteria in your mouth is okay and to be expected, but there’s a line. “Everyone has bacteria in their mouth, but an overpopulation of the bad bacteria can lead to increased cavities and increased chances of poor oral hygiene,” says Dr. Anamelechi. That can then lead to gingivitis (bleeding gums), periodontitis (bone loss), and tooth infections, which may even cause more serious issues, such as increased chances of heart disease, preterm birth due to increased stress on the body, tooth loss, and bone loss through the body trying to rid itself of the bad bacteria, she says.
While you won’t necessarily have all of these problems or have them right away, it’s best to throw away that toothbrush cover ASAP. If you’re concerned about your teeth—maybe you’re experiencing pain, bleeding, tenderness, or something like that in your mouth—hitting up your dentist may be a smart move. While those effects can sound scary, you’re not alone, and you can take helpful steps to address them.
If you’ve been using a toothbrush cover, here’s what to do next
If you’ve used a toothbrush cover, you may be feeling a bit grossed out and concerned right now. Do you have to completely throw away the toothbrush, or can it be salvaged with (a lot of) hot water?
The safest bet is just to pick up a new toothbrush at the store. In fact, Dr. Anamelechi says changing it out every 90 days is a good practice regardless. “It is two-fold: The toothbrush bristles are now ready for replacement, and for hygiene and sanitation, it’s likely also ready for replacement.” (FYI: If you have an electric toothbrush, you can sometimes buy another toothbrush head without having to repurchase the whole product.)
If any other risks are at play, Dr. Anamelechi adds—such as a previous sickness—you should probably go ahead and change your toothbrush (or the head) now, regardless of where you’re at in that 90-day window.
To address any oral bacteria from your previous toothbrush cover use, mouthwash is one product that can help. For example, fluoridated mouthwash strengthens teeth while probiotic mouthwash (and probiotic toothpaste) can make good bacteria and reduce bad bacteria, according to Dr. Anamelechi. And don’t forget to keep up with brushing and flossing regularly, as well as seeing your dentist for a cleaning every three to six months if possible.
How to keep your toothbrush clean without a cover
Are there other ways to keep your toothbrush clean? Yes! And they’re fairly inexpensive, too. “Other options to a toothbrush cover is a toothbrush sanitizer (like a UV light), hydrogen peroxide as a cleanser, or even mouthwash that has an alcohol content,” Dr. Anamelechi says. “Running the toothbrush under hot water and allowing it to air dry is also an easy and cost-effective option.”
Additionally, it’s okay to put your toothbrush in a bigger container where it has more room to breathe, though a cheap toothbrush is probably your best option when going on vacation. “A sandwich bag is better than nothing, but also a brand new disposable toothbrush would be great for travel,” Dr. Anamelechi says.
Ultimately, while it may be hard to part ways with your once-trusty toothbrush cover, at least you have other sanitary options to choose from (and much safer ones at that).