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How does COVID-19 spread through utensils and toothbrushes?

This article was published on
September 14, 2021

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Current research does not suggest a high risk of transmission for COVID-19 through household surfaces, food, or food packaging. However, more intimate items such as utensils and toothbrushes may still cause a risk. In settings where groups of people are expected to share utensils, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using disposable utensils and tools is the safest practice. 

Current research does not suggest a high risk of transmission for COVID-19 through household surfaces, food, or food packaging. However, more intimate items such as utensils and toothbrushes may still cause a risk. In settings where groups of people are expected to share utensils, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using disposable utensils and tools is the safest practice. 

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What our experts say

COVID-19 can be easily transmitted between individuals who share the same personal tools. When researchers monitored hundreds of families with COVID-19-positive members for 15 days, they found that 55 percent of them passed the virus on to someone they share a toothbrush with in the same household. 

Another published study done in 2020 discovered that two in three COVID-positive people, who did not share their toothbrush with a family member, passed the virus to someone with whom they shared a toothbrush container. Furthermore, sharing the same tube of toothpaste increased the risk of transmission within the same household by 30 per cent. Additionally, more than half of individuals who did not replace their toothbrush after having had COVID-19 infection passed the virus on to a family member. 

The researchers also noted that the mouth is an early target of infection for COVID-19, especially the tongue, which is a great reservoir of viral germs. They continued to recommend tongue cleaning as the most effective oral hygiene habit in preventing the spread of the virus. 

Oral health is regarded as an important part of overall human health and wellbeing. Factors that can lead to oral and dental disease are the same factors that can lead to other long-lasting diseases, and often affect populations unevenly. Lower socioeconomic groups are at an increased risk for these diseases, oral disease and bad health outcomes for COVID-19 infections. Oral hygiene should be encouraged in all populations, especially during the pandemic.

Current research does not suggest a high risk of transmission for COVID-19 through household surfaces, food, or food packaging. However, more intimate items such as utensils and toothbrushes may still cause a risk. In settings where groups of people are expected to share utensils, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using disposable utensils and tools is the safest practice. 

Separating personal tools is a generally safe practice and good hygiene, and has been made even more relevant by the pandemic. 

Context and background

Since before COVID-19, the American Dental Association advises against sharing toothbrushes and dental floss, and recommends regularly replacing used toothbrushes. 

Experts recommend the following toothbrush care:

  • Do not share toothbrushes, as they can have germs on them even after being cleaned. This is especially important for people with immune suppression, like individuals living with HIV. 
  • Clean your toothbrush by rinsing it with tap water after use until it is completely clean, let it air-dry, and store it in an upright position. 
  • Store toothbrushes uncovered and in an open container to prevent growth of bacteria on them
  • Do not let toothbrushes stored in the same container touch each other.
  • There is no evidence to support soaking toothbrushes in disinfecting solutions or mouthwash. In contrast, it may spread germs in some conditions, and is best avoided.
  • If someone in the family is sick, separate their toothbrush away from the others, and replace it after they recover. 
  • You do not need to use dishwashers, microwaves, or ultraviolet devices to disinfect toothbrushes. These methods may damage the toothbrush.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months, or sooner if the bristles look worn out. This is because a worn-out toothbrush may not work as well, not because it might carry more germs.

When a person is sick with COVID-19 in a household, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends they should eat separately (in their room if possible) and avoid sharing food with other members of the household. Dishes and utensils should be cleaned with soap and hot water while wearing protective gloves (or in the dishwasher) then cleaning the hands with soap and hot water after taking the gloves off.

Resources

  1. Toothbrushing habits linked with spread of COVID-19 infections, research finds (Dental Health)
  2. Use & Handling of Toothbrushes (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
  3. Considerations for Community-Based Organizations (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
  4. COVID-19: Maintaining Normal Oral Hygiene (American Dental Association)
  5. Oral Health and COVID-19: Increasing the Need for Prevention and Access (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
  6. Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

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