A few years ago, I heard for the first time that if your toothbrush is in the vicinity of a toilet, there is probably shit - excuse me, fecal matter - on it. I've had this little nugget of wisdom stored in my brain since then, and although my toothbrush is as far from the toilet as anything can be in my 6 square foot bathroom, writing about how dirty loofahs can become made me wonder, what the fuck is on my toothbrush (aside from shit)?
From what I can gather, your toothbrush is basically like if you took your loofah filled with staph, dipped it in sewage, rolled it in a damp towel and then left it in an air tight container... then un-sealed it a week later and threw it in the dirt on a lettuce farm in the middle of an e-coli breakout. But that's like, worst case scenario. It may seem dramatic, but according to the title of this Men's Health article, there are 10 million types of bacteria on your toothbrush, so maybe my hypothetical comparison isn't so "out there."
So when you flush the toilet, droplets from the toilet fly out and land on your toothbrush (old news). The next time you try to insult someone by telling them to "eat shit," remember that they probably already have, that morning. But then again, if you weren't careful, you might have too. In addition, if you store your toothbrush inside a plastic tube, your brush isn't getting any air time to dry, and like the loofah sitting in a damp shower, this promotes mold growth. Another problem is that you have a mouth, and mouths are dirty AF without any additional assistance - like as dirty as a bathroom floor. And that's a legit scientific comparison that was made, I didn't just make that up.
Myth Busters checked out the fecal matter issue, and they definitely confirmed that it's not a myth. So if you had any doubts, you were wrong, and you need to stop being a stubborn asshole and start closing the lid of the toilet when you flush. Not only did they confirm it's true, but they tested two toothbrushes that weren't even LOCATED IN A BATHROOM and even THEY had shit on them. This is a mystery to me, and I wish they could plant tracking devices at the molecular level (can they? Does the Myth Busters team know?). But this means that your toothbrush can be pretty far away from the toilet - as in, not even in the same room - and still end up contaminated.
There are a few things you can do to keep your toothbrush clean(er). One is that you can replace it more often. Another preventative measure is to KEEP THE TOILET LID DOWN WHEN YOU FLUSH THE TOILET. Also, leave your toothbrush out in the open, hopefully-no-longer-shit-infested air so that it can dry between uses. And finally, on subtler note, Dr. Gerry Curatola, (founder of Rejuvenation Dentistry) told Fox News that it's best to, "avoid toothpaste that contains chemicals like sodium laurel sulfate or triclosan copolymer." Those ingredients can actually irritate the mouth more and cause increases in canker sores. Triclosan is an antibacterial and anti-fungal agent, which scientists think might be be leading to increases in strains of resistant bacteria. To sum up: read the label of your toothpaste to make sure it doesn't have anything that might be making your dirty mouth worse. I would also like to address the fact that I am referencing an article from Fox News and while I would normally never do something so asinine, this is a scientist talking about science, so I figured it was fine.
So you can throw away your toothbrush more often, but I feel like that also means extra plastic is going to be thrown away. You can get an electric toothbrush... some dentists feel strongly about having an electric toothbrush, and to them I say: fuck off. Not only is that pricier, and I don't make a sadist dentist's salary, but they're setting you up for more issues because the same Men's Health article says the following about electric toothbrush heads:
A new study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found that hollow heads have 3,000 more times the bacterial growth than solid ones. Unfortunately, most packages don’t specify the head design, so the best way to identify is through the connection to the body of the power toothbrush, says lead study author professor Donna Warren Morris, R.D.H. There will be some space to connect the two parts, but up to the bristles or brush head will be solid, she explains.
Instead of having to get an electrician's degree to figure out which toothbrush head to buy, you can get this eco-friendly toothbrush at Whole Foods, and replacement heads can be purchased on Amazon. The replacement tops produce 1/5 of the plastic waste a full toothbrush does, so you can replace them more often without feeling like you're throwing away more just to prevent fecal buildup on your toothbrush. You shouldn't have to choose between the well-being of the earth and your own oral hygiene, that seems cruel. Other plastic-free options from My Plastic Free Life are here.
This list from Mental Floss (ha!) has a nice, detailed outline of all the heinous shit that has the potential of settling on your toothbrush. You may want to avoid it completely, and I would if I were you, but it's there if you want to see it. Just remember that once you read it, you can't un-read it.
I now want to acknowledge that a little dirt is okay... it strengthens our immune system when we ingest some filth, so keep chanting: God made dirt, so dirt don't hurt. But still shut the toilet lid.
The moral of this story is that your mouth is naturally disgusting, and common practice is to take a toothbrush that is even dirtier and "clean" your mouth with it. It's a fucked up world we live in, when we're brushing our teeth with shit that escaped from the toilet, but I've never heard a better argument for a post-brush Listerine cocktail. If you can make a foot soak out of Listerine, it damn well should get the job done on your teeth.