Dental decay is one of the most common preventable childhood diseases and tooth extractions are the biggest reason children are admitted to hospital for general anaesthetics in the UK.
Start brushing a baby’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first milk tooth breaks through or at the introduction of solid foods whichever is earliest.
It’s important to use fluoride toothpaste, as this helps to prevent and control tooth decay.
- There’s no need to buy special “children’s toothpaste” brands. In fact, some of them don’t have enough fluoride in them to help prevent tooth decay
- Children can use family toothpaste, as long as it contains 1,350-1,500 parts per million (ppm) fluoride
- Check the toothpaste packet if you’re not sure, or ask your dentist
- Below the age of three years, children should use just a smear of toothpaste
- Children aged three to six should use a pea-sized blob of toothpaste
- Encourage them to spit out excess toothpaste
- But not to rinse with lots of water as rinsing with water after tooth brushing will wash away the fluoride and make it less effective
Children’s teeth should be brushed for about two minutes twice a day – once just before bedtime and at least one other time during the day.
Supervise tooth brushing until a 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 about two minutes.
The amount of sugar in the diet and more frequently it is consumed can cause tooth decay. The more often a child has sugary or acidic foods or drinks, the more likely they are to have decay therefore:
- Limit sugary and acidic foods just at mealtimes
- If you are preparing snacks for children, try to stick to foods that do not harm teeth such as cheese, vegetables and fruit
- Only offer water or milk to drink between meals
- Aim to introduce drinking from a free-flow cup from six months of age and stop feeding from a bottle from 12 months of age
- Avoid cups with valves
- If fruit juice is offered dilute one part juice to one part water and only offer in an open or free flowing lidded cup
- Avoid squashes, fizzy drinks, juice drinks as these contain sugar and have limited nutritional value
- Low sugar / no added sugar / sugar free drinks although these have less sugar they contain citric acid which is equally harmful to children’s teeth.
Further resources and information
Independent dental charity working to improve standards of oral health and hygiene in the UK
To find an NHS dentist visit
For information on who is entitled to free dental care or help with dental costs:
National Smile Month
The UK’s largest and longest-running campaign to promote good oral health.
A national programme to improve the oral health of children in Scotland and reduce inequalities in oral health and access to dental services.