Children's teeth

From brushing their first tooth to their first trip to the dentist, here's how to take care of your children's teeth.

A regular teeth-cleaning routine is essential for good dental health. Follow these tips and you can help keep your kids' teeth decay free:   

  • Start brushing your baby's teeth with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first milk tooth breaks through (usually at around six months, but it can be earlier or later). It's important to use a fluoride paste as this helps prevent and control tooth decay. 
  • All children can use family toothpaste containing 1,350-1,500ppm fluoride as long as you supervise brushing until the age of seven and make sure they don't eat or lick toothpaste from the tube.
  • Children under the age of six who don't have tooth decay can use a lower-strength toothpaste if you prefer, but make sure it contains at least 1,000ppm fluoride. Check the toothpaste packet for this information or ask your dentist.
  • Below the age of three years, children should use just a smear of toothpaste.
  • Children aged between three and six years should use a pea-sized blob of toothpaste. Check the toothpaste packet for this information or ask your dentist.   
  • Brush your child's teeth for about two minutes twice a day: once just before bedtime and at least one other time during the day.
  • Encourage them to spit out excess toothpaste but not to rinse with lots of water. Rinsing with water after tooth brushing will wash away the fluoride and reduce its benefits.
  • Supervise tooth brushing until your child is seven or eight years old, either by brushing their teeth yourself or, if they brush their own teeth, by watching how they do it. From the age of seven or eight they should be able to brush their own teeth, but it's still a good idea to watch them now and again to make sure they brush properly and for about two minutes.

Making sure they brush properly

  • Guide your child's hand so they can feel the correct movement.
  • 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.
  • Don't let children run around with a toothbrush in their mouth as they may have an accident and hurt themselves.

Taking your child to the dentist

  • Take your child to the dentist when the first milk teeth appear. This is so they become familiar with the environment and get to know the dentist. The dentist can help prevent decay and identify any oral health problems at an early stage. Just opening up the child's mouth for the dentist to take a look is useful practise for when they could benefit from future preventative care. 
  • When you visit the dentist, 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 as advised by the dentist. NHS dental care for children is free.

Find your nearest dentist.

Fluoride varnish and fissure sealants

  • Fissure sealants can be done once your child's permanent back teeth have started to come through (usually at the age of about six or seven) to protect them from decay. This is where the chewing surfaces of the back teeth are covered with a special thin plastic coating to keep germs and food particles out of the grooves. The sealant can last for as long as 5 to 10 years.
  • Fluoride varnish can be applied to both baby teeth and adult teeth. It involves painting a varnish that contains high levels of fluoride on to the surface of the tooth every six months to prevent decay. It works by strengthening tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay.
  • From the age of three, children should be offered fluoride varnish application at least twice a year. Younger children may also be offered this treatment if your dentist thinks they need it.

Ask your dentist about fluoride varnish or fissure sealing.

Read more tips on how to look after your children's teeth.

Page last reviewed: 02/12/2013

Next review due: 02/12/2015

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