Tooth decay in children

Tooth decay is damage to the hard surfaces of teeth. It is also called dental decay or dental caries. It happens when food breaks down in our mouths to form acids. Sugary foods and sugary drinks are more likely to harm teeth in this way.

Teeth are at risk of decay from the time they appear in your baby's mouth. Children with tooth decay are at risk of pain, infection and the early loss of their baby teeth.

Preventing tooth decay

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

Babies are not born with a sweet tooth. If you avoid introducing sugary food for as long as possible, you will help protect your baby's teeth.

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 and with adult supervision.

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.

  • 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.

Page last reviewed: 17 September 2018
Next review due: 17 September 2021