Been Sick? Keep The Toothbrush by Dr. Maria Rhode
It’s the longest time of year for me…January-March. The holidays are over, the days are cold and short and dark, the hint of spring is far away, and germs are everywhere. They descend on us like invaders, often born out of an unintelligible genetic code, there to enter our mucus membranes and leave us feverish, medicated and not functional for at least a handful of days. In fact as I write this blog, I lay in bed with my own fever…a cup of lemon tea within arm’s reach, my thermometer and fever reducer next to the mug, and my loyal dogs by my feet.
So in this cold and flu season when it seems like germs lie on every surface, proper hygiene becomes really important. Wash your hands and sing Happy Birthday I tell my kids. Don’t rub your eyes! Don’t bite your nails! Dress warm! Well that’s all good advice, but what about ORAL hygiene? I tell my patients that toothbrushes should be changed every three months or as soon as they show signs of fraying. When the bristles fray, the toothbrush no longer cleans your teeth properly and can scratch your gums, leaving sores. But what about when you have been ill? Should you throw your toothbrush out right after you have recovered? That is a common myth, and one I will put to bed right now.
It is true that the bacteria or virus particles that make you ill like your toothbrush. It’s a petri dish for them really…wet, warm and incubating. These germs can even live on your toothbrush for up to a few days. However, it is YOUR toothbrush, and one that hopefully you do NOT share. In fact, even when completely healthy we should maintain our own toothbrushes. But the same germs that made you sick cannot possibly reinfect you even if they remain on the brush once you are well. You have built up antibodies to these pathogens and your body will recognize, attack and destroy them if they enter your mouth.
Think basic science people…the science of Natural Immunity. So a little crash course here about the two AA’s..antigens and antibodies. Our immune system is a collection of cells, tissue, and organs that work together to protect you, their host, from any germs that you are exposed to. Antigens and antibodies are part of this system. Antigens are all the foreign bugs. Antibodies are proteins that lock onto the antigens and destroy them. Think Space Invaders! Your body releases antibodies to attack, kill and remove the germ. When your body is faced with a new pathogen it does not recognize (think new antigen) there are no antibodies, and we get sick. However once we are better, our bodies now have the exact antibodies they need to fight that same germ if it ever comes near us again. That protection is called Natural Immunity, and it is for life.
So once again going back to your germy toothbrush. You had the flu, or a cold, or heaven forbid the morbid stomach bug and now you are staring at your toothbrush. Should you chuck it or boil it? Well how are those bristles and how old is it? If it’s new with firm bristles, I say put it in boiling water and save the couple bucks…remember you now have Natural Immunity. But if it’s beat up, then certainly trash it…splurge on a new toothbrush or just come to Imagine and we will gladly share.