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Dental care for babies and children

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Tooth decay is the major reason that children lose their teeth.
  • Even babies can get tooth decay, particularly if they suck on bottles containing fizzy drinks, flavoured milk, sports drinks or fruit juice.
  • You can help stop tooth decay by teaching your child how to brush their teeth when the first one appears.
  • A dummy dipped in honey or other sweet substance will cause tooth decay.
  • Take your child to the dentist or dental practitioner from a young age for advice on appropriate dental care.

How do my baby’s teeth develop?

Babies are born with 20 primary (‘baby’) teeth grow in their jaws. The average age for the first teeth to appear is 6 months. But it can be at any time from 4 to 10 months of age.

All teeth have usually appeared by the age of 2 or 3 years. It’s important that you care for your child’s teeth from an early age, well before the teeth arrive.

Baby teeth are needed to help guide the permanent (adult) teeth into the right place in the jaw. So as soon as teeth appear, it is time to start cleaning.

How do I clean my baby’s or toddler’s teeth?

  • wipe your baby’s gums with a damp wash cloth or clean gauze pad after each feed
  • introduce a toothbrush around 6 months of age, or when your baby gets their first tooth

A good toothbrush will have a small head and soft bristles.

You should brush your baby’s teeth twice a day:

  • only use water (not toothpaste)
  • use a pea-sized amount of a low-fluoride toothpaste for children aged from18 months to 6 years

Start to use dental floss as soon as your child has 2 teeth that touch. Your dentist or dental practitioner can show you how to use floss properly.

Caring for your child’s teeth

  • by the age of 9 years, your child should be able to brush and floss their own teeth twice a day
  • use adult-strength fluoride toothpaste and a small toothbrush with soft bristles
  • replace their toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or when the bristles get worn or frayed

Why should my child see a dentist or dental practitioner?

Regular check-ups by a dentist or dental practitioner:

  • help with good dental habits
  • can stop costly and painful problems later

Your dentist or dental practitioner can help teach you and your child about:

  • good food and drink choices
  • proper brushing
  • flossing technique

ASK YOUR DENTIST — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your dentist or dental practitioner.

When should my child visit the dentist or dental practitioner?

Start taking your child to the dentist or dental practitioner:

  • within 6 months of their first tooth appearing
  • or when they reach 12 months of age

Your child should see their dentist or dental practitioner regularly. Visiting the dentist is an important part of growing up.

Your child should also see a dentist or dental practitioner:

  • as soon as you think there is a possible dental problem
  • if you notice dark spots in their teeth
  • before they start playing contact sports
  • if the upper (top) and lower (bottom) teeth don’t come together correctly when they bite their teeth together

Can illness or medicine damage my child's teeth?

Ongoing medical conditions or long-term use of some medicines may cause dental problems. Talk to your dentist or dental practitioner if you are concerned.

Some medicines have ingredients that can damage teeth. For example:

  • tetracycline (an antibiotic) can permanently stain teeth brown or yellow, if used before 9 years of age
  • some puffers used to deliver asthma medicines can cause problems if the teeth are not rinsed after use

How can tooth decay be prevented?

Start teaching your child healthy dental habits when they are very young. It may stop dental problems in the future.

As soon as their teeth appear, it’s time to start cleaning them.

You can also:

  • feed your child a balanced diet from the 5 major food groups — vegetables, fruit, grains, meat and dairy food
  • limit snack foods that are high in sugar
  • don’t let your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquid
  • encourage your child to drink water when they are thirsty
  • limit fruit juice and soft drinks to special occasions

Sugary drinks of any sort will cause decay. This is because the sugar is converted to acid that dissolves the tooth enamel. Even plain milk can cause decay if your child is sucking the bottle while falling asleep.

If your child uses a dummy, make sure that it is clean. Do not dip it into honey or a sugary liquid.

What are my payment options?

Ask for a quote for the costs of the check-up or treatment.

Private health insurance

If you have ’Extras’ cover through private health insurance this can help with dental costs. Private health insurance policies don’t usually cover the full cost of dental treatment.

The amount that you can claim depends on the specific policy that you have. You may need to make a gap payment. Ask your private health insurer about their preferred providers.

Government funding for children

The Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) can help you pay some dental services for eligible children? This may include:

  • check-ups
  • x-rays
  • cleaning
  • fissure sealing
  • fillings

Check with Medicare to see if your child qualifies. Not all dentists or dental practitioners can carry out services under the CDBS. Call Medicare on 132 011 or visit the Services Australia website.

Information on the Child Dental Benefits Schedule is available in:

  • Arabic
  • Assyrian
  • Chinese
  • Dari
  • Korean
  • Persian (Farsi)
  • Serbian
  • Tagalog
  • Turkish
  • Vietnamese

Resources and support

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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