Ask Amy

Teeth cleaners leave restrooms with hidden surprises

Amy Dickinson
Amy Dickinson Chicago Tribune

Dear Amy: Where I work, we have several departments, which share a large, public bathroom.

My issue is this: Often, I walk into the bathroom to see a colleague brushing their teeth in one of these public sinks.

I’m guessing the most common reason is to prepare for a dentist appointment, but regardless of the reason, I find it really disgusting and thoughtless of others.

I wash my hands in those sinks, and people think it’s OK to spit their food, saliva and germs into a public sink?

I understand wanting clean teeth prior to seeing the dentist, but isn’t this poor (and unsanitary) etiquette?

Disgusted in the Bathroom

Dear Disgusted: Some people brush their teeth after every meal, and not just before going to the dentist. Certainly if your colleagues are headed into meetings, they might feel more confident knowing their teeth and breath are clean.

People who choose to brush their teeth in a public toilet are more vulnerable to public germs than you are, because of what (naturally) goes on in public restrooms. A 2015 study presented by the American Society for Microbiology showed that 60 percent of toothbrushes used in public restrooms tested positive for fecal contamination. They estimated that in public restrooms there is an 80 percent chance that this contamination does not originate with the toothbrush’s owner, but with someone else. Yikes.

I understand that it can be gross to look into the sink and see bits of food or toothpaste there, which is why people who are brave – or foolish – enough to brush their teeth in a public restroom should use a paper towel to clean and dry the sink bowl afterward.

Dear Amy: For the holidays, my family and I always go all out on presents. We exchange gifts with all my family members.

This year, my siblings and I decided to spring for a vacation for my parents. At the last minute, one of my siblings pulled out, but the rest of us decided to go ahead. We decided to get them something small for Christmas Day while we gather more money for their trip.

On Christmas, we exchanged gifts. A day later my mom confronted me and told me that my dad was sad because his present was not as extravagant as he thought it would be.

He said that he has always been there for me and that he never charges me money when he helps me with my 3-year-old, so he was devastated.

Should I tell him about the trip we have planned? I am hurt that he is hurt, and I do not want him to think that I forgot about him.


Dear Upset: You have a tradition in your family of being extravagant. This creates very real expectations. This year, when you presented your gift, you should have said, “There is something bigger waiting in the wings, but this is a token until we can give it to you.”

As it is, you should tell your father that you understand and are sorry he is disappointed. Tell him you appreciate him, and let him know that his big gift didn’t arrive on time, but you’ve been working on it for a while, and hope to deliver it very soon.

Email Amy at