Kids' teeth Q&As

Get your children to care for their teeth from a young age and you could help them enjoy trouble-free teeth for life.

Establishing good habits can help your child avoid oral health problems, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

Can I let my child have sweets?

Most children want sweets, but you can help prevent problems by making sure they don't have a large amount or very often, and particularly not before bed, when saliva flow reduces.

Try not to give sweets or sweet drinks as rewards.

What are the best snacks to give my child?

The best snacks are fruit and raw vegetables. Try tangerines, bananas, pieces of cucumber or carrot sticks. Other good snacks include toast, rice cakes and plain popcorn.

Dried fruit is a concentrated source of sugar and tends to stick to teeth, so only give it occasionally as a snack to children.

Should I let my child have fizzy drinks?

Fizzy drinks can contain large amounts of sugar, which will increase the risk of tooth decay. All fizzy drinks (both those containing sugar and sugar-free or "diet" versions) also contain acids that can erode the outer surface of the tooth.

Find out about healthier drinks.

What are the best drinks for my child's teeth?

The best drinks for children over one year old are plain still water or plain milk. Cow's milk is not suitable as a drink for babies under 12 months of age.

Your child should have full-fat milk (whole milk) from the age of 12 months to two years. Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced from the age of two, as long as your child is a good eater and growing well for their age. Skimmed milk can be given to children aged five and over.

Is it OK to drink fruit juice?

Even unsweetened juices contain sugars and acids, so although it can contribute towards your 5 A DAY, try to drink no more than one glass (about 150ml) of fruit juice each day and only at mealtimes.

If your child is thirsty, it's better to give them water than to encourage a taste for sweet drinks.

Try to avoid giving babies fruit-flavoured "baby juices", and never give them in feeding bottles. Fruit juice should not be given to babies under six months.

Read more about healthy drinks to give your children.

Will milk at bedtime damage my child's teeth?

Teeth are at most risk at night because there is less saliva in the mouth to protect them.

Water is the best drink to give at bedtime, but if you do give milk, don't add anything to it. Chocolate-flavoured drinks and milkshake powder usually contain sugars, which will increase the risk of decay.

Are sugar-free medicines better for my child's teeth?

Yes. Always ask if a sugar-free medicine is available and remind your doctor about this if you're being given a prescription for your child. This is especially important if your child is taking long-term medication.

When should my child give up bottles?

Your child should begin moving off the bottle and on to a free-flow feeder cup at six months. Bottles should be given up completely by the age of one because the teats and spouts encourage children to suck for long periods of time, which can mean the drinks that cause tooth decay stay in contact with your child's teeth for a long time.

Are sippy cups good for teeth?

There's no need for a child to use a sippy cup. These are similar to a bottle, in that they require the child to suck to make them work. A free-flow feeder cup is better as it doesn't have valves and the flow of liquid is unrestricted. This means children learn to drink normally rather than by sucking.

Read more about cups for children.

Will a dummy or thumb sucking harm my child's teeth?

No, but they will encourage an open bite, which is when teeth move to make space for the dummy or thumb. They may also affect speech development. That's why you should avoid using dummies after 12 months of age.

Thumb sucking and dummies won't cause permanent problems as long as the habit stops by the time your child gets their second teeth, but it can be a hard habit to break.

Discourage your children from talking or making sounds with their thumb or a dummy in their mouth, and don't dip dummies in anything sweet, such as sugar or jam.

What is fluoride varnish?

Fluoride varnish can be applied to baby teeth and adult teeth. It involves painting a varnish containing high levels of fluoride on to the surface of the tooth about every six months to prevent decay.

It works by strengthening tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay. From the age of three, children should be offered fluoride varnish twice a year. Younger children may also be offered this treatment if your dentist thinks they need it.

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