And, perhaps more importantly, do they actually work? We asked dentists to explain this newly-popular technology.

By Brigitt Earley
April 06, 2021
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Though the humble toothbrush has been around—in some form or other—for 5,000 years, the nylon-bristled toothbrush we use today was invented in 1938. No matter how much the oral hygiene instrument evolves over the years, one thing remains the same: It has a dirty job, ridding the mouth of plaque and freshening breath. Today, though, there's a relatively new device that's gaining in popularity, promising to keep your bristles a little bit cleaner: the toothbrush sanitizer ($11.95, amazon.com), a device that works to reduce the bacteria on your toothbrush with either heat, UV light, or a combination of both, explains Dr. Sophya Morghem, a cosmetic dentist in San Francisco.

Toothbrush in sanitizing case
Credit: DonNichols / Getty Images

But do they really work? In a nutshell, yes—but they're not miracle workers. "Studies show that ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizers do actually work to reduce the number of bacteria and organisms on your toothbrush," says Dr. Brian Harris, a cosmetic dentist in Pheonix, Arizona. "However, they do not eliminate living organisms entirely."

The Pros and Cons of a Toothbrush Sanitizer

It's important to remember that there is a difference between sanitizing and sterilizing. When you sanitize, you're reducing the amount of bacteria on a surface, but you're not killing it all. When you sterilize, you're eliminating bacteria entirely. Because a sanitizer can't completely sterilize your toothbrush, it won't leave it completely bacteria-free, explains Dr. Harris. And there are other, less expensive, ways to clean a toothbrush. Instead of using a sanitizer, you can soak your toothbrush in an alcohol-based mouthwash for 20 minutes each day or run your brush through the dishwasher, says Dr. Michaela Tozzi, a cosmetic dentist in Las Vegas.

So, are they worth using? "A toothbrush sanitizer can to a great job of minimizing the amount of bacteria that resides on your toothbrush, and anything that's going to help reduce the presence of harmful bacteria in the mouth is worth using," says Dr. Harris.

The extra step actually doesn't typically require any extra time, either. Most toothbrush sanitizers are cases in which you can store your toothbrush when not in use. You simply place your toothbrush inside, it turns on automatically, and then shuts off after a set amount of time. As long as you're using an FDA-approved sanitizer, they're perfectly safe. As with any UV-powered device, experts advise against staring at the UV light for an extended period of time, as it can damage the eyes.

Just remember: Even if you are ready to hop on the bandwagon, you'll still need to replace your toothbrush every three months says Dr. Harris. "Aside from the accumulation of bacteria, over time, your toothbrush bristles can become worn down which can lead to premature gum recession and inflammation."

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