Quarantine your toothbrush

How you might be spreading the coronavirus and not even know it
Boy brushing his teeth

Taking good care of your mouth means more than a great smile; your oral health can have an impact on the health of your whole body. While this is already an important link to understand, it’s especially relevant right now with the arrival of the novel coronavirus.

The latest CDC reports indicate the coronavirus spreads through the air when infected people sneeze or cough, and when touching contaminated surfaces. Additionally, people who are infected but don’t have symptoms are also likely spreading it to others.

This means that normal things like brushing your teeth may increase your risk of getting sick. If you share your toothpaste with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, prevent the spread of the virus by using a different toothbrush holder, dental floss, mouthwash, and even a different toothpaste. While we might not ordinarily think of things like these as risky, upping your dental hygiene game can help keep the people around you healthy.

Tips for good dental hygiene

Since not everyone with COVID-19 shows symptoms, it’s still important to practice proper toothbrush and floss hygiene, even if you feel fine. Be extra careful if you have family members at higher risk of getting sick from the virus, such as older adults and people with underlying medical conditions. Here are tips to help keep others healthy if you have a cold or the flu, and especially if you contract COVID-19:

  • Clean your toothbrush
    If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you are sick, isolate your toothbrush and dip the bristles into antiseptic mouthwash for a few minutes after every use. You can also place it in the dishwasher and run a cycle to sanitize it.

  • Wash your hands before brushing or flossing
    If you’re about to clean your teeth, it makes sense that your hands should be cleaned first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If using hand sanitizer, make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol. And wash your hands again after brushing and flossing as well, to help reduce the spread.

  • Disinfect the handle
    After using your toothbrush, wipe the handle with a safe disinfectant or 70% ethyl alcohol (ethanol). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the coronavirus can live for two to three days on plastic, and it is possible to get the virus from touching contaminated surfaces. Alternatively, the CDC recommends using a diluted household bleach solution or a common Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered household disinfectant like Lysol.

  • Don’t contaminate the toothpaste
    If you are ill, do not share toothpaste tubes with anyone in the household. Don’t touch the tip of the tube directly onto your toothbrush. One way around this is to squeeze a bit of toothpaste onto a Q-tip or piece of wax paper, then apply it to the bristles.

  • Never share your toothbrush
    Toothbrushes can still have germs on them even after being visibly rinsed clean. Though it might be tempting to help someone out if they’ve misplaced their toothbrush, it’s not worth the risk of sharing. And if you’re around kids, help them out by making sure they grab only their own toothbrush. If it helps, color-code toothbrushes or write names on them. Kids can innocently spread germs, so keep it simple for them and keep them safe.

  • Floss containers
    If you are ill, don’t share your floss with anyone in the household. Get your own floss container and keep it isolated with your toothbrush.

  • Throw away your toothbrush once you recover
    After recovering from your illness, make sure to replace your toothbrush with a new one so you don’t risk getting sick again. If you use an electric toothbrush, replace the head and thoroughly disinfect the handle and the base.

Even if you’re completely healthy, the American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles look worn.

  • Rinse your mouth after brushing
    Don’t forcefully spit into the sink as this can aerosolize your saliva and toothpaste and transmit viruses. After rinsing, spit gently to help keep your germs from spreading in the air and onto surfaces.

  • Clean up afterwards
    After flossing, brushing, and rinsing, it is extremely important to clean and disinfect the sink, faucet, mirror, and countertop. Otherwise, they could be a source of infection. Keep your face cloth and hand towel separate from others’, and immediately throw out any paper you use to avoid contaminating people in your house.

While these dental hygiene tips might seem like several extra steps to think about, they’ll become second nature before too long. And COVID-19 isn’t the only illness around. Impeccable oral care habits can not only benefit your overall health but also help keep people you care about safe and well. Learn more about COVID-19 and how Blue Shield California is here for you.