When you consider what unseen microbes might be eddying around your bathroom, using a toothbrush sanitizer seems like a no-brainer. But skeptics question whether these products are necessary, and whether your toothbrush isn't just the latest target in the overzealous antibacterial craze.
The product claim: Makers of countertop sanitizing chambers like Violight, Germ Terminator, OraPure, and Purebrush say that bacteria, including E. coli (splashed from the toilet) and salmonella, can thrive on toothbrushes and possibly enter the bloodstream through tears in the gums. But the sanitizers' UV light or pulses of steam and dry heat will kill up to 99.9 percent of the existing bacteria within minutes.
Experts say: Studies have shown that microorganisms can live on a toothbrush, "but it has yet to be proved that brushing with a toothbrush transmits or prolongs disease," says Clifford Whall, PhD, director of the American Dental Association's seal of acceptance program. Panos Papapanou, DDS, PhD, a professor of dentistry at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, says most germs on a toothbrush are from your mouth anyway: "Even if some bacteria does enter the bloodstream from a contaminated toothbrush, it will be quickly eliminated by a healthy immune system." Neither expert knows of any cases of E. coli on a brush making people sick. "It's unlikely that enough E. coli, or salmonella for that matter, would be present to cause an infection," says Papapanou. Antibiotic resistance is not an issue, according to Stuart Levy, MD, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University: UV light or steam and dry heat will not make remaining germs unresponsive to antibiotics.
The bottom line: Peace of mind may be worth the $20 to $50 sanitizers cost. But really, the ADA's guidelines should keep you safe and secure: Rinse brushes thoroughly after use and air-dry; do not share or let family brushes touch one another; and replace every three to four months or sooner if bristles are worn or splayed.