Looking after your child's teeth

Looking after your child's teeth and mouth from an early age can stop them developing conditions such as tooth decay and erosion.

It will also encourage the healthy development of their permanent adult teeth.

How to keep your child's teeth healthy

You can keep your child's teeth healthy by:

  • preventing tooth decay
  • brushing their teeth regularly
  • seeing a dentist regularly

Tooth decay in children

Tooth decay is damage to a tooth caused by bacteria in dental plaque that turn turn sugars into acid. It is common among children.

If plaque is allowed to build up, it can lead to holes in the teeth (dental caries). This can cause painful infections such as a dental abscess (where pus collects inside the tooth). It can also lead to a swollen face or gums.

Foods and drinks containing sugar are more likely to cause tooth decay.

Preventing tooth decay

You can protect your child from tooth decay with simple daily care. Controlling how often your child has sugary foods and drinks is the most important way to do this.

Children are not born with a sweet tooth. If you avoid introducing sugary food for as long as possible, you'll help to protect your child's teeth.

Avoid sugar

Foods and drinks that contain sugar can lead to tooth decay.

Read food labels. Sugar may also be called sucrose, fructose, glucose or maltose on labels. 'Low sugar' or 'no added sugar' on the label does not mean that the food or drink is sugar-free.

Natural products such as honey and agave syrup are also forms of sugar.

  • Keep foods and drinks that contain sugar to mealtimes only.
  • Do not give sugary foods as snacks between meals.
  • Give your child milk and water when they want a drink. These are the best drinks for your child's teeth.
  • Keep fruit juice or squash to meal times only, or not at all, and dilute well.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks. They contain a lot of sugar and acid.
  • If your child does drink a fizzy drink, use a straw. It helps keep the fluid away from their teeth.
  • Use sugar-free medicines when available.

Healthy eating

Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and fibre.

Helping your child to eat healthily

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding during the first 12 months can reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Ask your public health nurse or GP if you plan to breastfeed after your baby is 12 months old.

Good dental routine

Once teeth appear, get into a good routine of cleaning teeth every day. From age 2 years on, clean your child's teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste on a soft children's toothbrush.

Brushing your child's teeth

Teach your child the best way to brush their teeth before they start to clean them on their own.

They should use gentle circular motions to clean each tooth individually. They also need to brush the back of each tooth and gently along the gum line.

When brushing your child’s teeth, try to sit or stand behind them and gently hold their chin. This should allow you to get at both their top and bottom teeth.

Help them brush their teeth until they are at least 7 years of age to make sure they're brushing their teeth in the right way.

How often to brush

Brush your child's teeth twice a day.

For example:

  • after breakfast
  • before they go to bed

When your child first starts to brush their teeth on their own, check on them every day.

Children's tooth brushing routine

Try to get into a regular tooth brushing routine. This will help your child when they start to brush their teeth on their own.

Use a pea-sized amount of regular adult-strength fluoride toothpaste and a children's toothbrush.

Give your child praise and encouragement when they brush their teeth well. This will help them to develop good brushing habits. It may help if you brush your own teeth at the same time.

Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing. They should not rinse with water afterwards as this has been found to reduce the benefit of fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that helps to prevent tooth decay.

Fluoride

Fluoride works by making the outer surface of the tooth stronger. It is naturally found in foods and in some water supplies.

Fluoride in toothpaste is very useful. You should start using it when your child is 2. If you are unsure about whether the toothpaste you are using has the right amount of fluoride, talk to your dentist.

What to do if your child refuses to brush

If your child resists having their teeth brushed, or wants to do it themselves, don't give up. You can try singing a song as you brush your child's teeth.

Let your child try brushing their own teeth after you have done it. Use your imagination to make brushing fun.

Dental appointments

Take your child for regular dental check-ups as soon as their first milk teeth appear, at around 6 months.

Check-ups can be every 3, 6 or 12 months depending on if they show signs of tooth decay. Ask your dentist what they recommend.

Take your child with you when you go to your own dental appointments. Get them used to the sights and sounds of a dental surgery. This will help them feel comfortable when they have to go for their own dental appointments.

Dental treatment for your baby and child

Your baby and teething

For information on access to and the availability of services in your area contact your local HSE Local Health Office.

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.

Page last reviewed: 4 February 2022
Next review due: 4 February 2025