Your child's trumpet or saxophone may be teeming with bacteria, a new study has found.
Musical instruments used by kids in school bands were found to be heavily contaminated with a variety of bacteria and fungi, many of which are associated with infectious and allergic diseases.
Mold found in instruments could contribute to the development of asthma, and yeasts commonly cause skin infections around the mouth and lips.
The study published in the March/April 2011 issue of General Dentistry tested 117 different sites, including the mouthpieces, internal chambers, and cases, on 13 previously played instruments of a high school band. Six of the instruments had been played within a week of testing, while seven hadn't been touched in about a month. The instruments produced 442 different bacteria, many of which were species of Staphylococcus, which can cause staph infections. Additionally, 58 molds and 19 yeasts were identified.
"Many children participate in their school's band ensemble and often the instruments they play are on loan," said R. Thomas Glass, DDS, PhD, lead author of the study. "Most of these instruments have been played by other students, and without the proper sanitation, bacteria and fungi can thrive for weeks and even months after the last use."
"Because these instruments come into contact with the mouth, it's no wonder they're a breeding ground for bacteria," said AGD spokesperson Cynthia Sherwood, DDS, FAGD. "As dentists, we see this same growth of bacteria in dentures, athletic mouth guards, and toothbrushes."
Researchers found that many of the bacteria can cause illness in humans and are highly resistant to the antibiotics normally prescribed by general practitioners. This finding makes sterilization of instruments extremely important.
"Instruments should be cleaned after each use to reduce the number of organisms," said Dr. Sherwood. "And cleaning should not be confined to the mouthpiece, since the bacteria invade the entire instrument."
To avoid transmission of bacteria from instrument to player, parents and students should frequently wipe the surface of the instrument that comes into contact with the skin and mouth. The instrument should be taken apart for thorough cleanings on a regular basis. Dr. Glass suggests using cleaning cloths and solutions made specifically for instruments. Most importantly, students are advised not to share their instruments with others.