Sanitization vs. Sterilization

When shopping for toothbrush disinfecting products, it's important to understand the operative lingo. To "disinfect" is to remove disease or infection, but the extent of this removal can vary greatly. "Sanitization" means to reduce bacteria by 99.9 percent. "Sterilization" is the process of destroying all living organisms. According to the American Dental Association, no commercially available toothbrush cleaning products have been shown to sterilize toothbrushes [sources: Weil, ADA].

Tips for Cleaning and Disinfecting a Toothbrush

While the methods described on the previous page are all generally accepted ways to disinfect a toothbrush, some health professionals say that disinfecting is not only pointless, but can also be harmful. The human body is constantly exposed to potentially harmful microbes, and the body defends itself through our barriers of skin and mucous membranes and infection-fighting antibodies. Because of our natural defenses, both the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that toothbrush disinfection is simply not necessary. In fact, it could evenlead to cross-contamination if multiple people use the same disinfectant solution over a period of time. Additionally, the use of dishwashers, microwaves or ultraviolet devices may also damage the toothbrush by wearing down the bristles and making it less effective [sources: ADA, CDC].

It's very possible to keep a toothbrush clean without disinfecting it if you follow these easy steps [sources: ADA, CDC]:

  • Rinse the toothbrush thoroughly with water after brushing.
  • Store the brush upright so it can air-dry between uses. If more than one brush is stored in the same holder or area, the brushes shouldn't touch each other.
  • Toothbrushes shouldn't be stored in a cabinet or drawer because dark, moist environments are breeding grounds for bacteria.
  • Check your toothbrush for signs of wear and tear, and replace it more frequently than every three to four months if needed. Children's toothbrushes often need to be replaced more frequently than adult brushes.