Poor oral hygiene measures such as sharing toothbrushes or toothpaste, keeping toothbrushes in the same container, and keeping the same toothbrush after testing positive for COVID-19 all increase the risk of coronavirus cross-contamination, report researchers at Rey Juan Carlos University in Spain.
The study monitored hundreds of families over a 15-day period and found that 55% of COVID-positive people who share a toothbrush passed the virus on to other members of the household. Meanwhile, according to the Oral Health Foundation (OHF), 26% of Brits share their toothbrush with other people.
OHF chief executive Dr. Nigel Carter believes oral hygiene habits such as sharing toothbrushes are linked to the transmission of many diseases and should be discouraged.
“There are many hundreds of different bacteria and viruses in our mouths, and those sharing a toothbrush could be passing these on to others,” said Carter.
“While this might be something relatively harmless, such as a common cold or cold sore, if the person you are sharing with is infected with hepatitis B and now coronavirus, these could also be passed on via the toothbrush, with severe health consequences,” said Carter.
The study also found that 66% of people who tested positive for coronavirus and who share a toothbrush container with other members of the household passed the virus on to them. Plus, households with a COVID-positive member increase their risk of spreading the virus by 30% if they share the same tube of toothpaste.
People who disinfect their toothbrush in an antibacterial mouthwash, however, reduce their chances of passing the virus on to other members of the household by 39%.
“Storing toothbrushes in the same container has always been a bad idea, but today this separation has become a real necessity. This is especially important if a person has the virus without the symptoms, as they could be unknowingly spreading the virus to loved ones,” said Carter.
“It is important to store your toothbrush away from others, in a dry place and with the brush head pointing upwards. This allows the bristles to dry faster and hinders the spread of any virus or bacteria that may be lingering on the brush,” Carter said. “If you know you are infected, soaking your brush in an antibacterial mouthwash after brushing could also help kill any bacteria and viruses on the toothbrush.”
Further, 54% of those subjects who did not change their toothbrush after being tested positive for COVID-19 passed the virus on to other people in their household.
OHF usually recommends changing your toothbrush or brush head every three months or when the bristles become worn. The organization is now advising anyone who has had coronavirus or symptoms of the virus to change their toothbrush.
“As a population we are taking unprecedented measures, both personally and professionally, to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Changing the toothbrush, along with other simple oral hygiene actions, are relatively easy steps you can take to reduce possible spread of the COVID-19,” Carter said.
The study also found that tongue cleaning was the most effective oral hygiene habit in reducing the spread of the virus. The mouth is an early target of infection for COVID-19, the researchers said, especially the tongue, which is a great reservoir of viral germs.
The researchers additionally believe that if effectively implemented, hygiene in the home and in daily life has the potential to reduce infection rates and antibiotic consumption. Tooth brushing, interdental cleaning, and tongue cleaning all are essential in reducing the presence of the virus in the mouth, the researchers said.
The study, “Oral Hygiene Habits and Possible Transmission of COVID-19 Among Cohabitants,” was published by BMC Oral Health.