Looking after children's teeth - Give them a healthy start

Baby teeth are very important, they allow your child to eat, speak and smile and help guide the adult teeth into the correct position. If teeth become decayed they can cause pain, problems with eating and speaking with more visits to the dentist.

Follow the advice below to keep baby teeth healthy and free from decay:

  • Get into a good toothbrushing routine
  • Cut down on sugar
  • Take your child to the dentist from an early age

Get into a good toothbrushing routine

  • Start to brush as soon as teeth appear, usually around the age of six months of age
  • For children under 3 years old use a smear of family toothpaste that contains the right amount of fluoride, toothpaste containing 1350 – 1500 ppmF are the most effective at helping to prevent tooth decay
  • From 3 years old use a small pea size amount of toothpaste containing at least 1350 ppmF
  • Encourage your child to spit out and do not rinse the mouth out with water, as this will wash away the fluoride toothpaste that strengthens the tooth surface
  • Remember to brush the teeth twice a day especially at bedtime and at one other time in the day
  • Bedtime brushing is best as it allows the toothpaste to work whilst your child is asleep
  • Help your child to brush their teeth until at least the age of 7 years old. For some children this will be longer, for example if you have a child with additional needs
  • Reduced cost toothbrushes, toothpaste and free flow feeder cups are available from all Children’s Centres

Top Tips

Not all children like having their teeth brushed, so you may have to keep trying and:

  • keep to the routine and don't let it turn into a battle
  • don’t change to a children’s toothpaste, as some do not contain the recommended level of fluoride
  • make it into a game, use music, a timer, toothbrushing apps or brush your own teeth at the same time and then help your child finish their own

The easiest way to brush a baby’s teeth is to sit them on your knee with their head resting against your chest. With an older child, stand behind them and tilt their head upwards.

For more tips visit:

Cut down on sugar

Having too much sugar can cause teeth to decay. This is caused not only by the amount of sugar in sweet food and drinks, but by how often the teeth are in contact with the sugar.

When sugary drinks are given in a bottle or cup they can quickly damage your child’s front teeth as they bathe the teeth in sugar for long periods of time. To keep your child’s teeth healthy and free from tooth decay follow the advice below.

  • Breast feeding provides the best nutrition for babies
  • From 6 months of age infants should be introduced to drinking from a free flow cup, and from age 1 year feeding from a bottle should be discouraged
  • Plain water and milk are the only drinks that won’t damage teeth and should be the only drinks given between meals
  • Sugar should not be added to weaning foods or drinks
  • Reduce both frequency and amount of sugary foods and drinks by keeping to mealtimes only. Any drinks given should be diluted as much as possible and given only at mealtimes
  • In-between meals choose healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables
  • If your child needs to take any medicines choose or request a sugar free variety
  • Never give food or drinks containing sugars within one hour before bedtime as the saliva in the mouth slows down and will increase the risk of tooth decay
  • Sugar swaps for kids

Top Tips

  • The sugars in fresh fruit juices and dried fruits can damage teeth so keep to mealtimes
  • Don’t use sweet food such as biscuits, sweets or chocolates as rewards or treats and ask relatives and friends to do the same. Use items such as stickers, badges, hair slides, crayons, small books, notebooks, colouring books and bubbles. They may be more expensive than sweets but they last longer and are more fun
  • Give your teeth a rest - if children are having sweet foods or drinks, it’s less harmful for their teeth if they have them all at once and at the end of a meal rather than eating them little by little and/or between meals
  • Give all the family a varied diet and limit their sugar intake, look for ways of cutting down

Take your child to the dentist from an early age

It’s never too early to start taking your baby to the dentist, take with you when you go for your own dental appointments, so they get used to the idea. The dentist can give you advice on caring for their teeth and look out for problems at an early stage.

NHS dental treatment and advice is free for all children. Ask your dentist about fluoride varnish which can be applied to your child’s teeth to help make them stronger.

To find a dentist visit the NHS Choices website - www.nhs.uk, ask at your local dental practice, or contact NHS England on 0300 311 2233 (email - england.contactus@nhs.net)

Top Tip

Every month, lift your child’s top lip and look for changes on their teeth. If you notice any marks or anything you are not sure about ask your health visitor or dental team for advice.

Sugar content of popular foods



Teaspoons of sugar

Cola (1 can)


Fresh orange juice (1 glass)


Blackcurrant cordial (1 carton)


Orange cordial (1 glass)


Strawberry smoothie (1 cup)




Rice pudding (1 tin)


Fruit yoghurt (1 pot)


Ice cream (1 scoop)


Chocolate (1 bar)


Custard cream (1 biscuit)


Jam doughnut


Liquorice allsorts (1 small bag)


Frosted flakes (1 bowl)


Tomato ketchup (1 sachet)


Weaning foods


Egg custard (125g)


Rice pudding (125g)