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Laura Dorr is the executive editor of DPR's Modern Dental Network.
Using a communal bathroom? There’s probably poop on your toothbrush.
A recent study out of Quinnipiac University discovered that toothbrushes in communal bathrooms serve as vectors for transmission of fecal coliforms and potentially pathogenic organisms, including enteric bacteria (normal bacteria that is found in the stomach) and pseudomonads (bacteria found in soil, water, plants, stomach and on skin). So, while the bacteria are not foreign to the human body, trouble can arise when the bacteria are coming from someone else – which happens more often than not.
“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,” said Lauren Aber, a graduate student at Quiinipiac University.
Researchers collected toothbrushes from communal dorm bathrooms (that were used by an average of 9.4 occupants) at the university. Shockingly, they discovered that at least 60% of the toothbrushes were contaminated with fecal coliforms – regardless of how the toothbrushes were stored or decontaminated.
The grossest part? There was an 80% chance that the fecal coliforms on the toothbrushes came from someone other than the toothbrush’s owner.
“Better hygiene practices are recommended for students who share bathrooms,” said Aber. However, she added, “using a toothbrush cover doesn’t protect a toothbrush from bacterial growth, but actually creates an environment where bacteria are better suited to grow.”
Our suggestion? Follow the ADA’s recommendations for toothbrush hygiene – and store your toothbrush in a room sans toilets!
The research was presented as part of the 2015 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, which took place May 31- June 2 in New Orleans.