As soon as a baby’s first teeth come through this is when you need to start brushing their teeth. Looking after your child’s teeth from this moment on will help them grow up with healthy teeth and gums. Keeping an eye on what your child eats, their oral hygiene and how regularly they visit the dentist are all important when it comes to caring for your child's teeth.
How to keep children’s teeth healthy
Children need a regular teeth cleaning routine and it is recommended that an adult helps a child clean their teeth until they are aged seven.
Teeth are at most risk at night because there's less saliva in the mouth to protect them.
Tooth brushing tips
- Brush your child's teeth for about two minutes twice a day: once just before bedtime and in the morning.
- Encourage them to spit out excess toothpaste and do not to rinse with lots of water. Rinsing with water after tooth brushing will wash away the fluoride and make it less effective.
- Supervise tooth brushing and support children with how to brush their teeth, be a role model and let them watch you brush your teeth.
- Start brushing your baby's teeth with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first milk tooth breaks through. It's important to use a fluoride toothpaste, as this helps to prevent and control tooth decay
- Ensure that you use a fluoride toothpaste. Children from the age of seven can use family toothpaste, as long as it contains 1,350 to 1,500 parts per million (ppm) fluoride. Check the toothpaste packet if you're not sure, or ask your dentist
- Make sure children don't eat or lick toothpaste from the tube
- Below the age of three years, children should use just a smear of toothpaste
- Children aged three to six should use a pea-sized blob of toothpaste
How to help children brush their teeth
- Guide your child's hand so they can feel the correct movement
- Stand behind your child, use a mirror to help your child see exactly where the brush is cleaning their teeth
- Make tooth brushing as fun as possible by using an egg timer to time it for about two minutes
- Taking your child to the dentist
- NHS dental care for children is free
- It is recommended to take your child to the dentist when their first milk teeth appear, so they become familiar with the environment and get to know the dentist
- When you visit the dentist, as an adult be positive about it and make the trip fun. This will stop your child worrying about future visits
- Take your child for regular dental check-ups
How to prevent tooth decay in children
Having good habits can help your child avoid having tooth decay.
Sweets and snacks
Children may want sweets, but you can help to prevent problems with their teeth by making sure they don't have a large amount or very often, do not give sweets before bed, when saliva flow lessens.
- Fruit and raw vegetables are the best snacks. Try tangerines, bananas, pieces of cucumber or carrot sticks
- Other good snacks include toast, rice cakes and plain popcorn
- Be careful of dried fruit as they are high in sugar and can be bad for teeth, so only give it to children with meals – for instance, as a dessert – and never as a snack between meals
Fizzy drinks can contain large amounts of sugar, which will increase the risk of tooth decay. The best drinks for children aged over one are plain still water or plain milk.
- Your child should have full-fat milk (whole milk) from the age of 12 months to two years.
- Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced from the age of two, as long as your child is a good eater and growing well for their age
- Skimmed milk can be given to children aged five and over.
- Cow's milk is not suitable as a drink for babies under 12 months of age.
- Unsweetened juices and smoothies contain sugars and acids, restrict your child to no more than one small glass (about 150ml) of fruit juice or smoothie each day and only at mealtimes.
- Try to avoid giving babies fruit-flavoured "baby juices", and never give them in feeding bottles. Fruit juice should not be given to babies under six months.
- Water is the best drink to give at bedtime, but if you do give milk, don't add anything to it.
- Chocolate-flavoured drinks and milkshake powder usually contain sugars, which will increase the risk of decay.
Bottle to cup
Your child should begin moving off the bottle and onto a free-flow feeder cup at the age of six months, and try to get them off bottles completely by the age of one. This is because the teats and spouts encourage children to suck for long periods of time; this means the drinks that cause tooth decay stay in contact with your child's teeth for a long time.
Use a free-flow feeder cup, as it doesn't have valves and the flow of liquid is unrestricted, so there is no need for a child to use a sippy cup as they're similar to a bottle in that they require the child to suck to make them work.
Developing healthy brains
While you are helping your child brush their teeth you can sing songs and play. To promote healthy brain development, children need time and attention from someone who's happy to play with them. These positive, nurturing interactions are known as 'serve and return'.
In other words, when an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, connections are built in a child's brain that support the development and social skills.