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Looking after your infant's teeth

Caring for your child's teeth

As soon as your baby’s teeth start to come through, you can start brushing them. Use a baby toothbrush with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste.

Don’t worry if you don’t manage to brush much at first. The important thing is to get your baby used to teeth-brushing as part of their daily routine. You can help by setting a good example and letting them see you brushing your own teeth.

Brushing tips for children

  • Use a tiny smear of toothpaste for babies and a pea-sized amount for children.
  • Gradually start brushing your child’s teeth more thoroughly, covering all the surfaces of the teeth. Do it twice a day: just before bed, and at another time that fits in with your routine.
  • Not all children like having their teeth brushed, so you may have to keep trying. Don't let it turn into a battle. Instead, make it into a game, 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.
  • Brush the teeth in small circles covering all the surfaces and let your child spit the toothpaste out afterwards. Rinsing with water has been found to reduce the benefit of fluoride.
  • You can also clean your baby’s teeth by wrapping a piece of damp gauze with a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste on it over your finger and rubbing this over their teeth.
  • Carry on helping your child brush their teeth until you’re sure that they can do it well enough themselves. This will normally be until they’re at least seven. 

Taking your child to the dentist

NHS dental treatment for children is free. Take your child with you when you go for your own dental appointments, so they get used to the idea.

To find a dentist you can use our services search, ask at your local clinic, or contact NHS England on 0300 311 22 3 or email [email protected] 0845.

Prevent tooth decay by cutting down on sugar

Sugar causes tooth decay. Children who eat sweets every day have nearly twice as much decay as children who eat sweets less often.

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. Sweet drinks in a bottle or feeder cup and lollipops are particularly damaging because they bathe the teeth in sugar for long periods of time. Acidic drinks such as fruit juice and squash can harm teeth, too. This is why it’s better to dilute them well and give them at mealtimes, not in between.

The following measures will help you reduce the amount of sugar in your child’s diet and prevent tooth decay.

  • From the time your baby is weaned, encourage them to eat savoury food. Check if there's sugar in pre-prepared baby foods (including the savoury ones), rusks and baby drinks, especially fizzy drinks, squash and syrups.
  • Only give sweet foods and fruit juice (diluted one part juice to 10 parts water) at mealtimes.
  • Don't give biscuits or sweets as treats. 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.
  • If children are having sweets or chocolate, it’s less harmful for their teeth if they eat the sweets all at once and at the end of a meal rather than eating them little by little and/or between meals.
  • At bedtime or during the night, give your baby milk or water rather than baby juices or sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • If your child needs medicine, ask your pharmacist or GP if there’s a sugar-free option.
  • Avoid drinks containing artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin or aspartame. If you do give them, dilute them with at least 10 parts water to one part concentrate.
  • It’s OK to use bottles for expressed breast milk, infant formula or cooled boiled water. However, using them for juices or sugary drinks can increase tooth decay. It’s best to put these drinks in a cup and keep drinking times short.
  • Between six months and one year, you can offer drinks in a non-valved free-flowing cup.
  • Check your whole family’s sugar intake, and look for ways of cutting down.

Sucrose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose and hydrolysed starch are all sugars. Invert sugar or syrup, honey, raw sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, muscovado and concentrated fruit juices are all sugars. Maltodextrin is not a sugar, but can still cause tooth decay.