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Dental care for children

4-minute read

Tooth decay is the major reason that children lose their teeth. One way you can help prevent tooth decay is to teach your child how to brush their teeth when the first one appears. You can also help to maintain dental health by limiting sugary foods and drinks, and by taking your child to the dentist from a young age.

Even babies can get tooth decay, particularly if allowed to suck slowly on bottles containing milk or fruit juice. If left in contact with the teeth, sugary drinks of any sort will cause decay because the sugar is converted to acid that dissolves the tooth enamel.

Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquid (which are all sugary).

Check that your child doesn’t carry a full bottle around with them or go to sleep with one.

Cleaning your child's teeth

These tips might also help to keep your child’s teeth healthy.

Wipe your baby’s teeth with a damp wash cloth. You can start using a small soft toothbrush under the age of 2 twice a day, but use only water (not toothpaste) until your child reaches 18 months.

Use a child-size toothbrush with soft bristles and replace it every 3 to 4 months or when the bristles get worn or frayed.

Once your child learns to spit toothpaste out, use one that contains fluoride. For children aged 18 months to 5 years, it’s best to use a low-fluoride toothpaste. Put a pea-sized amount on the toothbrush and brush your child’s teeth after every meal and before bed. If your child happens to swallow some toothpaste, the small amount is unlikely to do any harm.

As soon as your child has 2 teeth that touch, begin using dental floss before brushing. Introduce flossing gradually — once a week is enough at first — and make sure that it is fun for your child and not a burden. Your dentist can show you how to use floss properly.

By the age of 7 or 8 years, your child should be able to brush their own teeth. They may need help with flossing until they are a bit older — 10 or 11.

Why should my child see a dentist?

Regular check-ups by a dentist help with good dental habits and can prevent costly and painful problems later.

Your dentist can help teach you and your child about good food and drink choices and proper brushing and flossing technique.

When should my child visit the dentist?

Start taking your child to the dentist within 6 months of their first tooth appearing or when they reach 12 months of age — whichever comes first. Your child should see their dentist regularly and understand that visiting the dentist is an important part of growing up.

Your child should also see a dentist:

  • as soon as a possible dental problem is noticed by you or them
  • before they start playing contact sports
  • if you notice dark spots in the pits of the teeth
  • if the upper and lower teeth do not come together correctly in a uniform ‘bite’

Can illness or medicine damage my child's teeth?

Ongoing disease or long-term use of some medications may cause dental problems. If your child is taking medication for a chronic disease, talk to your dentist about any special dental care they might need.

Many medicines have ingredients that can damage teeth. For example, the antibiotic tetracycline can permanently stain teeth with a brown or yellow colour if it is used before the age of 9 years, and many puffers used to deliver asthma medication can cause problems if the teeth are not rinsed after use.

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

Last reviewed: March 2021

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