Could it be that the very instrument we use to clean our mouths with is contaminated?

Yep, that’s right: Staph, E. coli, fecal germs and intestinal bacteria are but a few germs lurking between those bristles. So says  Maria L. Geisinger, assistant professor of periodontology at the School of Dentistry at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

This could be due to a number of factors: droplets released in the air when flushing the toilet or even lack of washing hands. Toothbrushes are susceptible to contamination straight from the box as it’s not packaged under sterile conditions. Geisinger suggests these tips to protect your toothbrush from germs:

1. Rinse your toothbrush properly with clean tap water or soak it in antibacterial mouthwash

2. Use antibacterial mouthwash before you brush to decrease the amount of germs deposited on your toothbrush

3. Store your toothbrush upright and not in a closed cover – this can promote microorganism growth, according to Geisinger

4. If you store your toothbrush in a rack with other toothbrushes, keep them seperate to avoid cross-contamination

5. When sick, keep toothbrushes separate and replace it after the illness if you can

General rule of thumb: replace your toothbrush every three to four months. Geisinger also suggests getting regular dental care, not sharing toothbrushes and washing your hands after using the toilet and before brushing. And remember: your teeth are the first thing people notice when you smile, so use The Best Products For Whiter Teeth.