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What Is a Toothbrush Sterilizer?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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A toothbrush sterilizer is an electronic or battery-powered device that is designed to kill germs on toothbrushes. There are three main types of toothbrush sterilizer: those designed for individuals, those geared for families, and those designed for dentists and orthodontists. Most use direct application of ultraviolet light rays to quickly and efficiently sanitize the brush heads. These rays are not generally considered harmful to humans, particularly not in the short time spans required to clean a toothbrush. Professional or high-volume sterilizers may also use very hot water or steam for cleaning.

The basic premise behind a toothbrush sanitizer is to eradicate all germs and bacteria that may be living in on the brush head or between bristles. Brushing teeth requires that a toothbrush be inserted into the mouth, then used to scrub at plaque and other build-up on the surface of the teeth. This usually exposes the brush to a lot of bacteria. Most people rinse their brushes after use, but this is not always enough to kill germs that may have jumped on that may have begun growing. A wet toothbrush head is a welcoming environment for a number of different bacteria strains to grow and reproduce.

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Individual and family sterilizers are usually designed to be low-profile, and are often made to sit atop a bathroom counter. Most take the form of closed chambers, but some look like ordinary toothbrush holders, just with UV stations in the base. Toothbrushes hook into fixed slots before the machines are turned on. The “on” switch activates an emission of highly concentrated UV-C beams, which disinfect and sterilize within a number of minutes. Toothbrushes can usually be stored in the toothbrush sterilizer once the disinfecting is finished, or they can be removed and put back in their ordinary place.

UV-C beams are rays of light at a radiation level only naturally emitted by the sun. The sun has three main radiation bands: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. Bands A and B are most harmful to humans, as they are the leading causes of sunburns and cancers. UV-C does not generally pose the same risks to skin, but it does alter the molecular compound of most bacteria.

In a toothbrush sterilizer, UV-C lights are isolated and directed in steady streams. When the toothbrushes are locked into the light chamber, they are constantly and completely exposed, which almost instantaneously kills the vast majority of all germs and lingering bacteria. It also creates a sterile environment where no new cultures can attach. A sterile toothbrush is believed by many in the dental and oral health profession to promote health and prevent disease.

Sterilizers designed for use in the home are usually flexible enough to accommodate many different types of toothbrush. Children’s toothbrushes, adult toothbrushes, and even the heads of many electric models can usually fit. Some sterilizer units are designed with specific brands or styles in mind, but most are universal.

The technology is generally the same in professional devices, but on a larger scale. A professional toothbrush sterilizer can usually hold a great many toothbrush heads or attachments. Other dental equipment, particularly mirrors, plaque picks, and flossing tools can also be sterilized in industrial grade machines. Depending on how many tools a dentist or orthodontist wishes to sterilize at once, a steam or hot water-based machine might be a better solution than a UV model.

UV light works best for sterilizing individual or small numbers of things together. While UV chambers can certainly work on higher concentrations, the rays usually need to be a lot stronger and more pointed. This can take a lot of energy, and can be expensive, as well. To mitigate these costs, professionals often use high grade, dishwasher-like appliances for sterilization that depend on water and steam.

A water-based toothbrush sterilizer disinfects by killing germs with heat. Very hot water or steam serves the same role as a UV-C ray: it kills the germs, then leaves the surface completely hostile to new growth. This kind of sterilizer is not nearly as efficient or practical for home use.

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