Toothbrushes in communal bathrooms could be playing a game of catch with the bacteria fecal coliforms, spreading it far and wide in a short time, according to a new study.
If the name "fecal coliforms" gives you the willies, the bacteria originates in the intestines, just as the name suggests.
"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," says Lauren Aber, a graduate student at Quinnipiac University in the US.
In the study, the research team collected toothbrushes from various communal bathrooms at QU that were shared between 9.4 individuals, on average.
Although bathroom users practiced a range of storage methods with their toothbrushes, the research team found that 60 per cent were contaminated with fecal coliforms.
This number is consistent with previous research done on toothbrushes and fecal coliforms, yet in the situation of a communal bathroom, the chances that the fecal coliforms came from someone else is 80 percent, according to the study.
As far as hygiene was concerned, the researchers observed no differences between decontamination using cold versus hot water or rinsing with mouthwash.
In fact, the only two toothbrushes in the study that owners claimed they regularly rinsed with mouthwash showed telltale signs of fecal contamination.
"Using a toothbrush cover doesn't protect a toothbrush from bacterial growth, but actually creates an environment where bacteria are better suited to grow by keeping the bristles moist and not allowing the head of the toothbrush to dry out between uses," says Aber.
Communal or not, the bathroom is an environment that makes toothbrushes vulnerable to contamination with substances from the toilet, according to the study that was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
What's more, hollow-headed power toothbrushes could attract and transmit even more bacteria than solid ones, according to another recent study conducted at Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry.
"Toothbrushes can transmit microorganisms that cause disease and infections. A solid-head design allows for less growth of bacteria and bristles should be soft and made of nylon," says lead author Donna Warren Morris, R.D.H., M.Ed.
Finding a solid-head power toothbrush can be a daunting process because as Morris points out, the packaging does not normally indicate that aspect of the head design.
The study was published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene.
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