Should I Replace My Toothbrush After I've Been Sick?

Do you need to change your toothbrush after you've been sick?. Tadamusa Taniguchi/Digital Vision/Getty Images

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 known to man. If you have kids, you might as well go ahead and buy a new one every week because goodness knows they get sick all the time.

It makes sense. If you use a toothbrush - which goes in your mouth - while you are sick then surely those germs end up all over the toothbrush, right?

And you don't want to continue to reinfect yourself.

Except it doesn't exactly work that way.

Although it's true that toothbrushes may harbor some germs, research has not found any evidence showing that there is an increased chance you will get sick again if you don't change your toothbrush after an illness.

The great thing about our bodies is that we have a natural defense system against germs. It's called an immune system. We are exposed to bacteria, virusesĀ , and other germs constantly but our immune systems are able to fight a majority of them off and they don't make us sick most of the time. The same goes for the germs on our toothbrushes.

What Should You Do?

  • The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you change your toothbrush every 3-4 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 upright until air-dry.
  • Do not cover your toothbrush or store them in closed containers - 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 amount 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 as needed.


"Toothbrush Care: Cleaning, Storing and Replacement". ADA Policies, Positions and Statements. Council on Scientific Affairs, November 2011. American Dental Association. 27 Aug 14.

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