Toothbrush Toss Unnecessary After Strep Throat, Says Icky Study

Do you toss out toothbrushes after somebody in your family suffers an illness like strep throat? Yeah, so do I. However, according to a surprising presentation given Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual conference in Washington D.C., we can apparently save the $4 and re-use the toothbrush.

Ick. That was my gut reaction too. But apparently they’ve got science behind them.

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston decided to test the advice from health professionals that children should toss out their toothbrushes after a bout of strep throat.

The first step was prove that the bacteria that causes strep throat can actually grow on toothbrushes by exposing them to strep bacteria grown in the lab. Probably to no one’s great surprise, the strep did grow on the toothbrushes — and it remained growing there for at least 48 hours.


Then they tested the theory with real children. They collected toothbrushes used by 14 kids diagnosed with strep, 13 kids who had sore throats that were caused by something else, and 27 healthy controls.

To their surprise, only one toothbrush ultimately showed evidence that it had strep bacteria growing on it — and that toothbrush came from a patient who didn’t have strep throat in the first place.

In other words, it didn’t seem to make any difference whether or not you use a new toothbrush. The strep throat bacteria didn’t grow on toothbrushes used by children with strep.

OK, good. With the cost of raising an American middle-class child born in 2011 estimated to reach a soul-crushing $234,900, then I guess it’s good to know that you can cut back on replacing toothbrushes after the kid gets a sore throat.

On the other hand, who are we kidding?

Science isn’t going to win this battle. It might be silly and superstitious, but if I’ve had a sore throat, I’m still tossing the toothbrush. Who’s with me?

[child brushing teeth with new toothbrush photo by Oksana Kuzmina via Shutterstock]