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 to brush your baby's gums with a soft toothbrush at bath time, or even let your baby have a go themselves as long as you supervise them. This establishes brushing their teeth as part of the washing routine.
  • 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. 
  • Children under the age of three can use a smear of family toothpaste containing at least 1,000ppm (parts per million) fluoride. Toothpaste with less fluoride is not as effective at preventing decay. Children between the ages of three and six should use a pea-sized blob of toothpaste containing 1,350-1,500ppm fluoride. Check the toothpaste packet for this information or ask your dentist. 
  • Make sure your child doesn’t eat or lick the toothpaste from the tube.
  • Brush your child's teeth for at least 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.
  • 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 the whole 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, using an egg timer to time it for at least two minutes.
  • Don't let children run around with a toothbrush in their mouth as they may damage their mouths or choke if they fall over.

Taking your child to the dentist

Once you've established a good tooth-brushing routine at home, the next step is the first trip to the dentist. These tips can make this a lot easier:

  • Take your child to the dentist when they're as young as possible and at least once by the time they're two. This is so they become familiar with the environment and get to know the dentist. The dentist can help to prevent decay and identify any health problems at an early stage. Just opening up the child's mouth for the dentist to take a look is useful practice for when they could benefit from future preventive care. 
  • When you visit the dentist, be positive about it and make the trip fun. This will stop your child worrying about future visits. NHS dental care for children is free.
  • Take your child with you when you go for your own dental check-up appointments so they get used to it.

Find your nearest dentist.

Fluoride varnish and fissure sealants

Two quick and painless preventive treatments – fissure sealant and fluoride varnish – are available on the NHS from your dentist, and sometimes from your child’s primary school.

Fissure sealants can be done once your child’s permanent 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. The process involves painting a varnish containing high levels of fluoride onto the surface of the tooth every six months to prevent decay. It works by strengthening tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay.

Ask your dentist if your child could benefit from fissure sealing or fluoride varnish. Some areas of the country provide the procedures in primary schools using mobile dental clinics. You will, as a parent, be asked for written permission before either procedure is used on your child.

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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