Can a Toothbrush Make You (or Your Family) Sick?

Last updated on June 25th, 2017 at 11:50 pm

Toothbrushes should be clean: After all, their whole purpose is to scrub all the germs out of your mouth. But as it turns out, a dirty toothbrush could make you sick.

“Bathrooms are moist and steamy: the conditions that bacteria love,” says Carol Wooden, a dental surgeon and spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Research from the University of Birmingham School of Dentistry in the United Kingdom found as many as 1.2 million bacteria on a single toothbrush, while a recent study in the New York State Dental Journal that examined used toothbrushes discovered that 70 percent were heavily contaminated with different microorganisms.


The Filthy 5

These are five of the nastiest germs scientists have found hanging out on a toothbrush:

  1. Flu: Influenza causes fever, chills, coughing and achiness.
  2. Staph:Staphylococcus aureus is responsible for common skin infections (such as boils and styes) and can be more problematic if it enters your bloodstream.
  3. E. coli: Certain strains of these fecal bacteria can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
  4. Yeast:Candida albicans (the fungus that causes yeast infections) was found on 70 percent of toothbrushes examined in a recent study from the University of Adelaide in Australia.
  5. Strep: Some kinds of streptococci bacteria lead to tooth decay; others (you guessed it) cause strep throat.

Healthy Toothbrush Tips

Fortunately, you probably don’t need to toss your toothbrush just yet. Even though certain germs have been identified on toothbrushes, that doesn’t mean you’ll catch something simply from polishing your pearly whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As long as you practice proper hygiene habits, it’s unlikely that bacteria on your toothbrush will make you sick,” says Dr. Neil Schachter, medical director of the respiratory care department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds and Flu. Follow these four rules to stay healthy:

1. Swap your brush. Replace your toothbrush (or the changeable head if you use an electric one) every three months, whenever you have a cold or the flu, or when the bristles look worn, suggests Wooden.

2. Flush carefully. Microorganisms go airborne when you flush the toilet — and they can land on your toothbrush. Keep your brush as far from the loo as possible and always close the lid before flushing.

3. Keep it to yourself. “Sharing toothbrushes can spread bacteria and viruses,” says Schachter. Even storing your toothbrush too close to someone else’s is unwise because bacteria can jump from one brush to another.

4. Wash away germs. Since bacteria from your mouth are transferred to your toothbrush every time you brush, you should always rinse your brush thoroughly afterward. “My main health concern is that small amounts of food can remain in the bristles, and if they’re not removed, they can spoil and cause gastrointestinal problems,” says Schachter. “It’s best to rinse your toothbrush in hot water after each use.” Want something stronger than water? Try dunking your brush in hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash, rinsing it with water and letting it air-dry, says Wooden.

TWO Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings in August: 8/6 & 8/27

Last updated on August 7th, 2011 at 09:34 pm

For those of you not familiar with ”Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings“, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other disabilities a special opportunity to enjoy their favorite “family-friendly” films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

To quote our Special Needs Parenting Expert Rosie Reeves: “It can be challenging enough to bring a child to a movie theater – they are dark, the sound is very loud, there are tempting stairs and rails and they are expected to sit still and stay quiet. When a child has special needs all these elements and many others can prove too daunting to even attempt such an outing. And yet getting out, being with the community and sharing in an experience with an audience can be invaluable for just such children – and their caregivers, too”.

On August 6th at 10am local time, “The Smurfs” will be screened as part of the “Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings” program. On August 27th, “Spy Kids – All the Time in the World – In 4D” will be screened. Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program.

Coming October 1st:Dolphin Tale


Editor’s note: Both The Smurfs and Spy Kids 4 are rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America. Please check the IMDB Parent’s Guide for a more detailed description of The Smurfs or Spy Kids 4 to determine if either is right for you and your child.

Is Your Family Overeating?

Last updated on August 22nd, 2018 at 10:49 pm

It’s no secret that obesity has become a major health problem in the U.S. — for both adults and kids. Roughly one in five children between the ages of 6 and 11 is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and many more are overweight. So what’s to blame? Lack of exercise and poor food choices are prime suspects. But so is portion control — which for many families has spiraled out of control.

In the last 20 years, people’s idea of a serving size has ballooned, according to the National Institutes of Health. Two decades ago, the average bagel was 3 inches wide and 140 calories; today, it’s 6 inches wide and 350 calories. Back then, cheeseburgers had 330 calories; now they’ve nearly doubled. And the average serving of soda has more than tripled — from 6.5 ounces and 85 calories to 20 ounces and 250 calories.

“The media keeps telling us we need to eat more; everything is just bigger when you see it,” says Dr. Virginia Keane, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland Medical School. “And we have all-you-can-eat restaurants. We’ve lost control and community knowledge of what’s a normal portion.”

A portion is a fistful — the eater’s fistful, according to Keane. (If you or your child is very active, you may need more. If you’re inactive, you may need less.) Just by reducing your food intake to that amount, you’ll help your family lose weight or at least maintain it. And it’s easier than you think. Here are some suggestions for keeping portions in check:

Cook and eat at home.

The simplest way to avoid supersized portions is to prepare and serve your own meals. The key, according to Keane, is to cook only the amount you’ll need for that meal (no leftovers!) and serve everything on individual plates, not family style. The only exceptions: vegetables and salad. There’s no limit on veggies (as long as they’re not drenched in butter or doused with full-fat dressing), so everyone can take what they want.

Go halvsies.

If you’re at a restaurant, split dishes between two adults. If the kids’ meals are twice the appropriate portion size, do the same with them. If your family tends to eat whatever’s in front of them, ask to have half the portion put in a to-go container before it even hits the table.

Snack smaller.

When you sit down in front of the TV or computer, don’t bring that bag of pretzels or cookies with you. Instead, scoop out a small amount and put it in an individual bowl — and don’t let yourself go back for more. Put the rest of the bag on a top shelf or at least out of sight. Better yet, cut up some fruit and put it in individual bowls. Or pass out fruit roll-ups or cheese sticks — one per person.

Downsize, don’t supersize.

Instead of getting the double-patty cheeseburger with bacon, order the plain junior cheeseburger instead. If your value meal comes with medium fries and drink, opt to go a la carte and order smalls. Ask for a kid-size portion of ice cream instead of one, two or three regular scoops. If it doesn’t feel like enough, remind yourself that that’s what size a serving of ice cream used to be anyhow.

Raising “Onlies” – Parenting Tips for Only Children

Last updated on May 30th, 2017 at 10:07 pm

What research says on how “onlies” turn out and parenting tips for raising the fastest growing kid breed.

Your Trivial Pursuit question of the day: “What do these famous folks all have in common?”

Cary Grant. Elton John. Chelsea Clinton. Alan Greenspan. Gerald Ford. John the Baptist. Laura Bush. Hans Christian Anderson. Lance Armstrong. Pierce Brosnan. Carol Burnett. Walter Cronkite. Leonardo da Vinci. Mahatma Gandhi. Rudi Giuliani. Robert de Niro. Eleanor Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt. Barbra Streisand. John Updike. John Lennon. Joe Montana. Charles Lindberg. Issac Newton. Cole Porter. Elvis Presley. Frank Sinatra. Gregory Peck. Ringo Starr. Condi Rice. Alicia Keys. Jean Paul Sartre. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

If you haven’t guessed, they’re all only children and they’re also a growing breed.

There are currently 20 million single-kid families in the US. The percentage of American women having only one child has more than doubled in 20 years to almost one quarter. (Time).

I was asked to share the latest research findings about only kids on the TODAY show as well as well as special tips to raise singletons. Here are a few tips from my TODAY show segment.

Why the New Down-Sizing Family Trend

The single-kid family is the fastest-growing family trend in the U.S. and most of Western Europe – for a number of reasons including these top three:

Recession and economic crunch. The recession has altered women’s child-bearing desires and for good reason. The average child in the U.S. costs parents about $286,050– before college. Sixty-four percent of women polled said that with the present economic crunch they couldn’t afford to have a baby now; 44 percent plan to reduce or delay childbearing.

Single motherhood increasing. A record 4 in 10 (41%) births were to unmarried women in 2008 which is up 28% since 1990. Single moms is a fast growing breed and many are choosing to adopt and remain single.

Delaying motherhood (marrying later, education, career). The percentage of women giving birth for first time at age 35 or older has increased eight-fold since 1970; among women 40 to 44, the birth rate grew 1 percent to 9.5 births per 1000 women – one of the highest rates ever.

Projections show that the number of only children in the U.S. will keep growing and the new trend is the “down-sized” family.

The Benefits of Raising Only Children

As with every birth order, there are unique pluses and minuses. Here are the top benefits of raising an only child according to the research:

  • Finances and resources: We can give our “onlies” more financial advantages because we don’t have to share our bank accounts amongst other siblings. The benefits of extra financial resources for tutoring and experiences seem to make a big difference in how only kids turn out.
  • Greater parental attention and energy: An only child does have a huge advantage in the self-esteem and confidence department because they have all their parents’ attention and energy and don’t have to divvy up their parent’s love with sibs.
  • Higher academic attainment: Singletons have an edge when it comes to achievement, standardized tests, SATs and intelligence. A 20-year study found only children have higher education levels, higher test scores, better vocabularies, and higher levels of achievement. The chief reason: we give “onlies” our undivided attention and talk more one-on-one so their vocabularies increase – which is an IQ booster. The drawback on this is that we can put too high of expectations on our “one and only” child. Make sure you don’t expect this lone offspring to “complete” you just because she is your one and only.
  • Closer parent-relationship: No guarantees but for the most part only kids grow up to be happy with closer parent-relationships. (Interestingly enough, anxiety about being the sole caretaker for aging parents is a top only child concern).

The Origin of Those Negative Only Kid Stereotypes

Spoiled. Arrogant. Bossy. Selfish. Maladjusted. Lonely. Bratty. Those are just a few terms often used to describe only children. But where did they come from? Are only kids really doomed?

Turns out all those negative stereotypes about only kids were based on research conducted over 120 years ago by one psychologist, Granville Stanley Hall. Though the 1896 study, “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children,” proved to be poorly designed (and would be thrown out of psych text books today), it somehow perpetuated a myth that only kids are oddballs and permanent misfits.

The latest studies refute those negative stereotypes of “onlies” and give a far more accurate as well as positive view that should give parents big sighs of relief.

A study of over 20,000 kindergarteners found that teachers rated students with at least one sibling as better able to form and maintain friendships and get along. But those same researchers just released Part II of that study and found that when only kids become adolescents the “lonely” edge decreases. In fact, there was no difference in the social skills of onlies vs. kids with siblings if their parents provided social opportunities.

Parenting Tips to Raise an Adjusted, Happy Only

Every child needs a boost in some area regardless of family size so singletons are no different than other kids. The key parent question is to ask what your child may be missing because of his or her unique growing up experiences, and then find “fill in” the void with the right opportunities. Here are the top three “issues” and solutions:

1. Dethrone your only

Because they are the one and only, they do stand the risk of acting a bit “entitled” which is a huge peer turn off. So beware that you don’t put your kid on center stage or give him the impression that the world revolves around him (even though in your eyes I’m sure he does).

2. Provide social skill opportunities

Find those social outlets for your child to be with other kids so she can learn those essential friendship-making traits: play dates, playgroups, a babysitting cooperative, scouting, church groups, family gatherings with cousins, holidays with friends, neighborhood kids, T-ball, summer camps, Boys and Girls Clubs, and sleepovers are just a few of many options to be on the alert for.

3. Help your child learn to solve conflicts

“Onlies” might have trouble solving conflicts, handling teasing, negotiating or compromising because they don’t have brothers and sisters to help them learn those skills in those day-to-day tiffs and teases. So try not to raise your only child with kid gloves. And make sure you find ways to help your child resolve conflicts and negotiate hot-button issues so she has those skills to handle the real world.

4. Stretch unique talents and strengths

If you’re a parent of an only child, I’d advise you to just do what every other parent should do: reflect on our child’s own unique talents, interests, passions, personality and temperament. Then look at the activities and interests in which she currently partakes.

Do they match her natural nature? Will they stretch his unique talents and strengths? Or are those activities more in sync with what you hope she will enjoy or your own talents, strengths, skills or memories?

Help your child become his own person. After all, your son or daughter deserves that privilege – as does every child.

Breathe: The Kids Will Be All Right (Really!)

If you’re wondering if “onlies” should be treated any differently that kids from multi-sibling families, relax. The single greatest correlation of what raises an emotionally healthy kid has nothing to do with birth order or family size. What matter more in how our kids turn out is our parenting style and how we interact with our kids.



Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions has been released and is now available at


Last updated on August 31st, 2015 at 12:24 am

As a pediatrician, I strongly support vaccination. I never thought shots were a big deal; parents and staff even chuckle sometimes when a kid is freaking out about shots. You know, ‘deal with it’. I have taken care of children who died from vaccine-preventable diseases, and I used to think that any delay in shots endangers all society. Then I had my own kids, and witnessed firsthand that while vaccines don’t hurt children, shots do. Like most of the 22% of adults who fear needles, my son Max developed a phobia after a horrible shot experience at age 4. This fear affected him every time he had to go to the doctor. I gradually realized that if I didn’t act he could go through adulthood avoiding medical care.

It makes sense that being held down and subjected to more than five shots at a time could have a lifelong impact on complying with health care. When I tried to use numbing creams, one nurse said “that stuff doesn’t work, they need to get used to it”, and gave the shot outside the numb zone! I got mad at the system and myself. If I couldn’t protect my child and I’m part of the system, what parent could? I wanted to come up with something that worked instantly that parents and patients with established needle phobia could bring and use even if the healthcare system wasn’t interested.

I knew that the body could stop pain naturally using something called “gate theory”. If you bang your knee and rub it the pain stops, if you smash your finger and shake it, it helps the pain, or if you burn your finger and stick it under cold running water it quits hurting. I thought of cuffs of cold water, all sorts of messy stuff. Driving home from the hospital one day it occurred to me that vibration would block pain, but it wasn’t until my husband suggested frozen peas UNDER the vibration that it really made my kids’ hands numb to sharp pokes. And Buzzy was conceived.

Buzzy® uses natural pain relief by confusing your body’s own nerves and distracting attention away from the poke, thereby dulling or eliminating sharp pain. Over the past 5 years my children helped test, build, and prototype Buzzy until we had a device that worked. They smashed cell phones, helped me use electric tape and elastic bands, and have served as my first and best advisors. We started with a hand held massager and frozen peas, and finally got to a cute bee with frozen wings.

From a scientific standpoint, I didn’t want to put it out there unless I knew it worked for other people as well as my kids. The Mayday Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to the reduction of pain and suffering, sponsored Georgia State to do a research study in adult volunteers getting IVs inserted. Buzzy significantly decreased pain, and was more effective the more anxiety people already had. A trial in children needing IV starts in the emergency department also showed significantly decreased pain by child and parent report, and even increased IV success threefold. On the basis of this, we got a $1M grant from the National Institutes of Health to study whether Buzzy reduces the pain of immunizations, and hopefully can avoid the development of needle phobia.

How important is this?? Although needle pain from a shot may not seem like a big deal, needle sticks are the most common and most feared cause of medical pain in the world. Blood donation, preventative health care, and diagnosing serious illnesses like cancer are all impacted by fearing doctors and needles. Conversely, awareness and use of available pain control methods for children can result in years of improved health. Buzzy® is now being used for dentistry, travel immunizations, fertility shots, and finger pricks, splinter removal, and flu injections! We’ve heard from parents who had considered stopping more effective injected or IV treatments due to needle fear who are now able to give their kids the best treatment due to Buzzy. We’ve even heard from kids… stories and letters that remind us that Needle Pain Matters…and because of that, so does Buzzy.


Before a shot:

My area of research is pain control, so I hear a lot of stories about drama at the doctor’s. For young children, pain is punishment and scary, so addressing fear is an important first step to making shots less of a big deal. Children are less fearful when they know what’s happening and feel in control. Sadly, there are no global answers, but there are some general tricks of the trade you can try.

  • When asked “am I going to get a shot?” focus on the benefit. “Yes, they have medicine that keeps you healthy.”
  • NEVER promise they won’t get a shot unless you intend to follow through and come back another time if they’re due for one
  • NEVER threaten with a shot if children don’t behave (establishing a needle as punishment or you as untrustworthy will guarantee a bad experience).
  • If the child’s question is, “Is it going to hurt?”, avoid using the words pain or hurt. Instead, use the word “bother”, and answer this way: “Actually, a lot of kids aren’t that bothered by shots. Before you get them, I’ll show you how we will make getting them not a big deal.”
  • If they’ve had a bad experience in the past, say “I found out about some new cool things we can do to make them much more comfortable.”

And now – the shot:

  • First, relieving kids’ distress begins with you. The best combination is warm but firm. No apologizing, empathizing, or letting them “just go to the bathroom real quick.” Instead, use praise, “I know you can do this”, and direct them to pay attention to non-shot related things before they get anxious. “Oh, look, SpongeBob.”
  • Second, the person giving the shots. These are research-proven things that make shots hurt less:
    • Give the least painful shot first
    • Give the shots sitting up in the arm after age 18 months
    • Use a slower push
    • Use a longer needle
    • Use “position of comfort”: facing you on your lap, or with your arm around the child if they are older and receiving shots sitting up. Being held flat is the most vulnerable positing you can be in; much better if 4-6 year olds can straddle your lap facing you and get shots while you hug them.
  • Third, to help overcome established needle-phobia:
    • There are creams (over the counter LMX-4, Ferndale Labs) which can be applied 20 minutes in advance, or prescription EMLA (Astra-Zeneca) which needs at least an hour. Be sure they’re placed correctly, and know that they only numb the surface. Never promise complete pain relief. Instead, try “these will help a LOT!”
    • Studies show that appropriate distraction decreases distress. While the nurse is getting the injections, let a child choose from multiple visual games or tasks to focus elsewhere during the shot. “Do you want me to read to you, or give you things to find?” Be prepared to pick if they’re indecisive. “You know what I think would be good? Let’s do this…” Bee-Stractors Emergency Entertainment cards can be kept in a purse or glove compartment for situations when you forget to plan ahead.
    • Tasks that include a sensation also help focus attention away from the poke: for example, tell your child to count zigzags as you scratch the edge of a fingernail on their arm. Tell the child to yell “now!” when a fingernail gets to the elbow or wrist. For multiple shots or a seriously anxious child, bring an ice pack or vibrating toy to touch other body parts and have the child name the body part touched by ice. “Knee! Leg! Nose!” Even better, touch them with an ice pop and 5 right answers wins the pop!
    • And speaking of ice packs, studies have shown that putting an ice cube on the site before a shot can decrease the pain. Adding an element of vibration during the poke can help as well, like when a dentist wiggles your lip during Novocaine. This is the breakthrough of Buzzy, but you can achieve the same results with any vibration/solid ice pack combination. For best results, let the child feel the sensations beforehand by scratching the arm under the ice pack/vibration source. “See how cold this is, and see how now you can’t feel so much any more?” Seeing for themselves and agreeing with you helps the child feel in control.

Whatever happens, praise how they did!

Prevent – and Treat – Your Kids’ Summer Skin Problems

Last updated on June 25th, 2018 at 02:57 pm

Protecting a young child’s delicate skin is a year-round responsibility for parents, but it’s especially important in the summer months when so much skin is uncovered and vulnerable to a host of warm-weather rash inducers. “There are definitely some types of skin rashes that we see a lot more of in the summer months, like sunburn and insect bites and stings,” says Dr. Kelly McClean, a dermatologist for adults and children at the University of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor.

Below, McClean and Dr. Brandie Metz (assistant clinical professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine) recommend safety tips to prevent and treat the most common summer rashes:


Prevent it: Proper sun protection techniques are important not just because they’ll keep your little one from getting a red, painful burn, says McClean. “We know that ultraviolet radiation increases the risk for skin cancers later in life, and it can also accelerate photoaging of the skin.”

The first line of defense should be covering up: Wear a hat and sun-protective clothing, stay in the shade as much as possible and wear sunglasses to protect the eyes. Kids need a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. The best time to slather it on is before you leave the house. “Once you get to the pool or beach, kids are excited about getting into the water or playing in the sand, and they’re less likely to stand still,” says McClean.

Even if your child always tans and never burns, that’s no excuse not to take sun protection seriously, adds McClean. “Parents have this misconception that a tan is safe, but what a tan means is that the skin has been damaged by the sun as well.” And if you’re cutting back on sunscreen because you’re concerned about vitamin D deficiencies, think again, says Metz. “Using sunscreen isn’t going to lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Most people reach their maximum production of vitamin D after only about five minutes in the sun,” she says.

Treat it: To treat sunburn, use cool compresses to bring down the temperature of the skin, or have your child take a cool bath. Avoid products with an anesthetic, “basically anything that ends in ‘caine,’ because that will just further irritate the skin,” says Metz. Any blistering burn requires a doctor’s attention.

Insect Bites

Prevent it: The most effective insect repellants contain the chemical DEET — but be sure the products you use on kids contain no more than 10 percent. “The best approach is to spray the repellant on the clothing rather than on skin,” says Metz. Stay away from products that combine DEET and sunscreen. “Sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently, and DEET does not,” she says. But when you use products that contain both, “you end up putting on too much insect repellant or not enough sunscreen.”

Treat it: Treat itchy bug bites with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.

Poison Ivy

Prevent it: You know that old saying, “Leaves of three, leave them be?” Turns out not all plants that cause an itchy rash have three leaves, says Metz. “Poison sumac can have seven or more leaves, so you really need to learn to recognize all the poisonous plants.”

The best prevention is to wear long pants and long sleeves during hikes. Also be aware that your child doesn’t have to touch the plant directly to come in contact with the plant oils. “If your pets run around in the woods, they can have the oil on their fur and kids can get it by touching the pet,” says McClean. But it’s a myth that rash can spread from person to person: Once the oil from the plant has been washed off the skin, you’re no longer contagious.

Treat it: For rashes from poison ivy and other similar plants, Metz usually recommends OTC hydrocortisone cream as well as an oral antihistamine.

Heat Rash

Prevent it: First-time moms often make the mistake of bundling up newborns too much in the warmer months. “Sweat ducts get clogged up and red bumps appear, especially in the skin folds,” says McClean.

To prevent heat rash, make sure you dress your baby in layers so you can easily remove unneeded clothing.

Treat it: The rash usually disappears soon after you cool down the skin by removing excess clothing and blankets. “Never put a cream or ointment on a heat rash,” says Metz, “because that will just further clog the pores and make the rash worse.”