The Dangers of Brushing Your Teeth in China

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness | Posted on 20-11-2012

In the fall of 2009, I spent 4 months in Weihai, Shandong, China as an English teacher in a primary school. I loved almost everything about China: the people, the atmosphere, the culture, and most of the food. On occasion, I came across a few (to be completely honest) disgusting dishes. The most terrifying of all was boiled silk worms. They had a sponge-like texture and tasted like dirt. Not only that, but there was no such thing as ice water. The only drink alternatives were soda, some form of “milk,” and hot tea.

Apparently, it is common knowledge that the water in China is not safe to drink unless it is boiled, but at the time, I didn’t know. Luckily, my husband explained that the water in our apartment was teeming with microorganisms just waiting for an unknowing American to ingest them. Anything from rinsing my mouth during a shower, taking a gulp of water, even brushing my teeth could introduce the organisms into my system.

There were some precautions we took in order to remain healthy during our stay in Weihai. We only drank sealed bottled water or water from our apartment’s water dispenser. The water dispenser had cold and hot settings, so we could drink it easily and cook with it.  We would switch out our water jug every few days; the only downside was hauling the water jug up five flights of stairs to our apartment.

When we were smart enough to wake up early during the few hours of warm water time, our showers were from the faucet. See exhibit A:

Fortunately, no one from our group of American teachers got sick from the shower water. We had warned our whole group that brushing their teeth was to be done with the bottled water and that shower water was for “external use only.”  We told my husband’s horror story of the last time he was in China: when he brushed his teeth with the water and was sick for over a month with a tape worm he had unknowingly gulped up.

By taking extra precautions while abroad, our group remained unharmed, for the most part.

When traveling, be sure to look into the country’s water situation, even in well-developed countries. In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss, but a serious blunder that could keep you ill for weeks. For more information on the water in China, visit For information on the quality of drinking water in the United States, and rules and regulations, visit

–Amanda Salisbury


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