Strong, healthy teeth are vital to our overall wellbeing, so it's important to get children into a good dental-hygiene routine early in their lives. Explaining what teeth do, making brushing fun and ensuring they're doing it correctly can set children up for life.
When should I start brushing my baby's teeth?
In general, babies get their first tooth at around five or six months. Don't worry if your baby takes longer to get their first one.
• Start very gently brushing your baby's teeth as soon as they come through
• Use a soft baby toothbrush and apply a tiny dab of a toothpaste with fluoride
• Gently brush your baby's teeth at least twice a day
How often should children brush their teeth?
If you start brushing your child's teeth early on, they'll soon get used to the twice-daily routine. Aim to brush before bedtime and at one other time during the day at least. Encourage conversation about why you're doing it so your child understands that it helps protect teeth against decay.
When brushing, use small circular movements and brush the front, back and top of teeth (the chewing surface), going around the mouth gradually. This should take at least two minutes.
Which toothpaste should I use?
Look for a toothpaste that contains fluoride since it helps to protect against tooth decay. You can use toothpaste with fluoride from birth.
Children can use family toothpaste, rather than a specific children's toothpaste. It should contain between 1,350 and 1,500 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride. Younger children who don't have any tooth decay (aged six and under) can use toothpastes with lower strengths, but they should contain at least 1,000 ppm of fluoride.
Use a tiny dot of toothpaste for babies, while older children can use a pea-sized blob. When brushing is finished, encourage your child to spit out any extra toothpaste. They should avoid rinsing their mouth with water, as this will wash away the fluoride.
How can I make sure that my children are brushing their teeth properly?
You should help your child brush their teeth until they can do it on their own, until they're at least seven years old. Children will need time to get used to the technique and coordination of movements required to brush their teeth properly. If you're patient and let them have lots of practice, they'll get the hang of it in time.
When first starting to brush, hold your baby on your lap with their head resting against your chest while you brush their teeth. Help older children by standing behind them and brushing their teeth while tilting their head slightly backwards. Don't let children run around when brushing their teeth as they may choke on the toothbrush. Go slowly and gently so your child's tooth-care routine is always a positive experience.
It's best to supervise older children while they're first learning to brush their own teeth, to be sure of their technique. A few things to watch out for:
• Children need to brush their teeth for at least two minutes, covering all teeth and from all angles
• Never let children eat or lick toothpaste from the tube, and encourage them to spit out excess toothpaste after brushing
• Make sure your child doesn't swill water around their mouth after brushing as this will wash away the fluoride
My child hates brushing their teeth, what can I do?
It's normal for babies to resist brushing at first, and it may be difficult to brush your baby's teeth properly. However, don't be disheartened. It's important to very gently persist as things will improve once they get used to it, and a regular teeth cleaning routine is important for maintaining good dental health.
To make brushing more fun for babies and children, you can:
• Let them see you brushing your teeth. Explain what you're doing and why. It's likely that your child will want to imitate you
• Explain how things work while brushing your child's teeth. Turn it into a game by asking your child what comes next
• Get into a routine so your child knows when their brushing sessions are coming up
• Read books about children taking care of their teeth and visiting the dentist
• Make up songs about brushing teeth
• Consider giving rewards, like stickers or badges, for good technique
How else can I take care of my child's teeth?
It's well known that sugar causes tooth decay. Cutting down on the quantity of sugar your child eats, as well as the length of time they're exposed to the sugar, will help prevent decay.
• Limit sugary foods and drinks, such as sweets and fruit juices. Some sweets, like lollipops, can cause more harm as they spend more time in the mouth
• Use stickers, crayons or a point system as treats or rewards rather than sweets
Many babies find using a dummy soothing and it's fine for them to suck one as infants. However, avoid using a dummy for children older than 12 months as this can contribute to an open bite (incorrect alignment of the upper and lower teeth on biting), which can affect speech development. Discourage children from speaking with a dummy or a thumb in their mouth.
When should I take my child for dental check-ups?
You can start taking your child for regular check-ups when a couple of milk teeth have appeared. Taking your child with you for your own check-ups will help them get used to the environment and prevent them from worrying about future visits.
Ask your dentist if your child would benefit from a fluoride varnish or fissure sealing. A varnish with high levels of fluoride can be applied to the surface of teeth and can be used on baby or permanent teeth. Children as young as three years can have fluoride varnishing applied twice a year. Fissure sealing is a plastic coating that covers the surfaces of the permanent back teeth to protect them from decay. The sealant lasts between five and 10 years.
Make an appointment with your dentist if you're worried about the way your child's teeth are developing or if you're concerned that there may be decay. Your dentist will be able to give you some more tips on how to take care of your child's teeth.
What are the next steps?
• Start brushing teeth twice a day as soon as your baby's first milk tooth appears
• Avoid sugary foods and drinks, and discourage your child from using a dummy after their first birthday
• Take your child for dental check-ups regularly, starting soon after they get their first couple of teeth