Caring for baby teeth

Looking after your child’s baby teeth can help ensure their adult teeth come through healthy and strong. Your child’s first teeth (also called baby teeth) will help them to eat and speak well.

5 steps to protect your child’s smile

  • Brush teeth twice a day
  • Use fluoride toothpaste
  • Have regular dental check-ups
  • Lift the lip every month to check for signs of tooth decay (holes)
  • Choose healthy foods and drinks.

Title: Your Child: Healthy Teeth. Episode 14 of 15.

Title: Renee & Dez’s Whānau

[Shots of Renee and Dez’s home.]

Debbie (voice-over): It's really important for your child's first teeth to be looked after, for their own growth and development. They need them for eating, speaking and generally keeping well.

[Interview with Debbie.]

Title: Debbie Jennings, Dental Therapist

Debbie: My name is Debbie. I am a dental therapist with the school dental service in Wellington. I am here today in Dez and Renee's home, talking to them about how to look after Aidan's teeth.

[Interview with Renee and Dez.]

Renee: Hello, I'm Renee.

Dez: Hi, I'm Dez. We have a three-year-old son named Aidan.

[Shots of Aidan playing.]

Title: Aidan, 3 years old

Dez (voice-over): He's a very lively, very bubbly sort of little guy. He's just your typical three-year-old that runs around a lot, and really enjoys brushing his teeth now.

[Renee brushes Aidan’s teeth. Aidan resists.]

Debbie (voice-over): Baby will get their first tooth at around six months of age. It's important that we start brushing those teeth as soon as they come through. They will continue teething until around two-and-a-half to three years of age. They will then have twenty teeth.

Renee (voice-over): Aidan's first teeth started coming in at seven months, so as soon as they came in we started brushing his teeth. It was quite easy for a while, until he got to about a year-and-a-half. Then it was quite difficult for us to brush his teeth. He was quite resistant to a toothbrush. We tried so many different methods.

Debbie (voice-over): It can be quite challenging when they're little pre-schoolers. Just remember their mouth is really sensitive, and it's got to be done gently.

Renee (voice-over): Now at three years old, we're in a routine where we brush his teeth in the morning after breakfast and at night before he goes to bed.

Debbie (voice-over): It's really important for an adult to brush their child's teeth until around eight years of age. We need to be doing it for two minutes after breakfast, and especially at bedtime, and that's to get rid of all the food and the drink we've had during the day, so it's not sitting on our teeth when we sleep. Otherwise the saliva, which you don't get at night time, can't wash all those foods off your teeth, and that's when the food will eat into your teeth, and you’ll end up with holes.

[Renee prepares fruit.]

Debbie (voice-over): As kids are snackers, it's important we protect and look after their teeth in between meals. We need to be feeding them fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthy alternatives like dairy products or plain crackers.

[Aidan eats an orange.]

Dez (voice-over): We give him healthy snacks as opposed to sugary treats, because that will help in the long term with his teeth, and also his health.

[Renee leads Aidan to the bathroom and helps him brush his teeth.]

Renee (voice-over): On a typical day, after he's had his breakfast, I will take him into the bathroom. We keep his toothbrush in a special bag, so I take it out, and put the toothpaste on it for him, and give him the toothbrush, and let him play around with it for a little while. And then when he's done brushing his teeth, I play a special song, which times out two minutes, and then I do a thorough clean of his teeth, brushing his teeth and his tongue. And then when the two minutes is over, the song will stop. Then he's finished brushing his teeth for the morning. That’s him done.

[Interview with Debbie.]

Debbie: Just remember, their tooth is like a little box, and we need to make sure we get all those surfaces. The top of the teeth, around the sides, the tongue, and also the gums. It's also important that we use a full-strength toothpaste, but just a little smear, as soon as their teeth start to come through. We don't lose our last baby tooth until about eleven or twelve years of age, so it's important to keep them healthy so they can guide the position of the big teeth coming through. I'd really like to encourage you parents to look after your children's teeth and help them end up with a lifetime of happy, healthy teeth.

Title: Our thanks to the families and health workers who appeared in this video for the Ministry of Health. Find out more about pregnancy and child health on

Brush twice a day

As soon as your baby’s teeth start to show, start brushing twice a day. One brushing should be at night before your baby goes to bed. Use a small, soft brush and a smear of family fluoride toothpaste (for children 6 years old and over, a pea-sized amount).

Once your child is over one year old, brush their teeth for two minutes. Brush all around the inside surfaces, where the teeth meet the gums, and also the top chewing surfaces. Brush on the front of their teeth, all around the outside surfaces and close to the gums.

Teach your child to spit out the left-over toothpaste after brushing. Don’t rinse with water, because a small amount of fluoride toothpaste left around the teeth will help to protect them.

You may find it easier to stand behind your child and gently tilt their head back as you brush or lie their head on your lap.

As your child gets older it’s a good idea to let them try using their toothbrush after you have cleaned their teeth for them. Children need help to clean their teeth until they are around 8 or 9 years old.

More tips on brushing is available on the New Zealand Dental Association website.

Use fluoride toothpaste

Fluoride makes teeth stronger and reduces tooth decay (holes).

The Expert Advisory Group of the NZ Guidelines Group recommends to use:

  • A smear of fluoride toothpaste for children up to and including 5 years old.
  • A pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for children 6 years old and over,
  • Toothpastes of at least 1000 ppm are recommended for all ages, and should be used twice daily. To ensure that you purchase toothpastes that contain at least 1000 ppm fluoride look for packaging labels that say: ‘contains 0.221% sodium fluoride’ or ‘contains 0.76% sodium monofluorophosphate

Get free Oral Health Service care

Your baby is eligible for free check-ups from an oral health service. It’s important to enrol your child with the service as early as possible, so that you can arrange the first check-up. To enrol with a service or to make an appointment phone them on 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583).

Regular check-ups increase the chances of finding and treating any tooth decay early. Your dental therapist will tell you how often your child should have a check up.

Lift the lip every month

Gently lift your child’s top lip once a month to check inside their mouth. It’s a quick and easy way to see if tooth decay (holes) is present.

The New Zealand Dental Association website has information on how to lift the lip. You can read about tooth decay and what to look for on the Plunket website.

If you are worried about your baby’s teeth, talk with your Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse, or with your doctor, or contact your Community Oral Health Service on 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583).

Choose healthy foods and drinks

Healthy eating = healthy teeth.

For drinks milk and water are best. Only these should be put in babies bottles or sipper cups.

Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle. Going to sleep with a bottle of milk, a warm chocolate drink or juice will start to cause tooth decay. If they want to suck on something to settle themselves, it’s better to use a pacifier/dummy with no sweetener.

Around 6 months is a good time to prepare your baby for drinking from a cup. Start with water in a sipper cup and you will find it much easier to wean from the breast or bottle later. Your baby may be ready to start eating solid food at around six months of age. To protect your baby’s teeth, choose healthy foods and drinks. Sweet drinks, foods and fruit juices can cause tooth decay and cause your baby to develop a taste for sweet foods.

As your child gets older, to protect their teeth, give them sugar free snacks between meals such as fruit, fresh vegetables.

For more information about healthy eating is available on this website.

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