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How to look after your baby’s teeth

27 Nov, 2023
Baby | Parenting | Toddler

’Baby’ teeth help your child to learn to chew, speak properly and most importantly, these teeth maintain the space in your child’s gums for their adult teeth.

Babies and toddlers are at just as much risk of dental decay as an older child or adult, so caring for your baby’s teeth needs to begin at birth.

By establishing good oral hygiene habits early, your child will be well equipped to have healthy teeth for life.


  • Before baby’s teeth appear, wipe baby’s gums after feeds using a damp, clean cloth. Baby gets used to this and it becomes easier when the time comes to start toothbrushing.

  • Once teeth start to appear, use a toothbrush specially designed for babies, with a small head and soft, rounded bristles to gently massage their teeth and gums.

  • Up to the age of 18 months, your baby’s teeth should be brushed with plain water.

  • Once your toddler has become used to brushing and during their third year, start brushing teeth twice a day – in the morning after their breakfast and in the evening just before bed.

  • 18 months to 6 years of age--use a pea-sized amount of children’s low fluoride toothpaste when brushing your child’s teeth.

  • Over 6 years of age--use a small pea-sized amount of adult toothpaste.

  • Help or check your child’s brushing until they are about 8 years of age.

Did you know that diet plays a significant role in the health of your child’s teeth? Dental decay rates in young children are rising, and this is due to changes in what and how some children eat.

Fewer children are drinking fluoridated tap water, and more children are having sugary, processed foods and drinks.

Early Childhood

As soon as your baby develops their first tooth, they are at risk of dental decay. The following tips can help prevent dental decay in your child:

  • If your baby has teeth, it’s best to avoid settling them to sleep overnight with a bottle of milk, sweetened flavoured milk, cordial, soft drink or fruit juice. Bacteria feed on the sugar in these drinks and form plaque acids on teeth, which eat into the tooth surface and cause decay.

  • Encourage your baby to learn to drink from a toddler cup from 12 months of age.

  • Don’t allow your child to take a bottle of milk or other sugary drinks to bed.

  • If your baby has a breastfeed or bottle of milk before bed, gently wipe down their teeth with a moistened cloth before putting them to sleep.

  • Avoid giving your baby or toddler frequent snacks - three meals and two snacks per day is ideal to meet dietary needs.

What food contributes to dental decay?

Foods high in refined carbohydrates (sugar), such as concentrated fruit snack bars, lollies, muesli bars, sweet biscuits, some breakfast cereals and sugary drinks and juices can contribute to dental decay, especially if eaten often and over long periods.

Highly refined packaged foods such as savoury crackers and chips can also have high levels of carbohydrate (sugar).

Tips to help minimise dental decay in your child’s teeth:

  • Enjoy two healthy snacks a day such as fruit and a small portion of cheese – milk and hard cheeses such as cheddar have protective qualities to help prevent dental decay.

  • Offer your child a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, lean meats and dairy products.

  • Limit sugary snacks such as lollies, fruit and muesli bars, biscuits, dried fruit, cordials, juices and soft drink. You need to make sure you clean your child’s teeth morning and night, as many healthy foods contain high amounts of sugar.

Importantly a healthy diet must be complemented by good oral hygiene - brushing and flossing teeth and regular dental check-ups. Daily flossing and brushing greatly reduces the risk of tooth decay.

Let’s brush up on some quick facts

  • Some medicines contain sugar for taste. If your child is prescribed medicine, ask your doctor if this can be sugar free.

  • Fluoride is a natural mineral that strengthens teeth and protects against decay. Most towns and cities in Australia add fluoride to the water supply at recommended levels. Your dentist can tell you if your local water supply is fluoridated.

  • Bottled water doesn’t usually contain enough fluoride to offer protection against tooth decay. Talk to your dentist about your child’s fluoride needs.

  • Soft drinks can contribute to tooth decay due to the significant amount of sugar they contain. A 600ml bottle can contain up to 13 teaspoons of sugar!

  • Less well known is that soft drinks, along with fruit juices, cordials and sports drinks often have high acid levels, and can play a major role in causing tooth erosion.

Encouraging healthy eating and drinking habits in your child is the best way to help them have healthy teeth for life.

Article supplied by The Australian Dental Association.

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