Teeth and teething

Your baby will start getting their first teeth at around 6 months. Find out when the baby teeth appear and how you can look after them.

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 www.health.govt.nz/yourhealth.

Watch this video to find out why your child's first teeth are important and how to care for them. Debbie, a dental therapist, talks to Renee and Dez about caring for their son's teeth, including brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and eating healthy food. Watch as Renee brushes Aidan's teeth.

Baby teeth

The lower (bottom) front teeth usually come through the gum first. These are followed by the upper (top) front teeth. The picture below shows when each tooth usually appears.


The bottom front teeth come through at 6–10 months, and the top front teeth at 8–12 months. Then, the top teeth on either side at 9–13 months, and the bottom teeth on either side at 10–16 months. The first top molar teeth come in at 13–19 months. The first bottom molars come in at 14–18 months. Then the top canines at 16–22 months and the bottom canines at 17–23 months. The last bottom molars come through at 23–31 months, and the last top molars at 25–33 months.

Many babies’ teeth come through without any problems, but for some the gums swell and become sore as teeth break through. Your teething baby may cry, have a slight fever, have red cheeks, drool, not eat or sleep well and want to bite something hard.

If your baby is upset, gently rub their gums with a clean finger or the back of a cold spoon. You can also wrap ice cubes in a wash cloth and place the cloth on your baby’s cheek. Give your baby something to chew on, such as a clean teething ring. You can also buy teething gels from your chemist.

If your baby has a lot of pain, bleeding or pus in their gums or swelling in the mouth or face, get help from a doctor or nurse or call Healthline (0800 611 116).

Teething doesn’t make babies sick. If your baby is unwell, check with your Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse or your doctor. Ring Healthline (0800 611 116) if you can’t get to a doctor easily.

Caring for your baby’s teeth

These first teeth will help your baby to eat and speak well. Healthy baby teeth usually mean healthy adult teeth too, so it’s important that you look after your baby’s first teeth.

Brush teeth twice a day

As soon as your baby’s teeth start to show, start brushing. Use a small, soft brush and a smear of regular-strength fluoride toothpaste twice a day. One brushing should be at night before your baby goes to bed. 

Use fluoride toothpaste

Fluoride makes teeth stronger and reduces tooth decay (holes). Use a 1000 parts per million (ppm) regular-strength fluoride toothpaste for your baby’s teeth.

Enrol with the Community Oral Health Service

Enrol your baby with the Community Oral Health Service if they haven’t called you – phone 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583). The service is free.

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 a video on how to lift the lip. You can read about tooth decay and what to look for on the Plunket website.

Drink from a cup

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.

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.

Related websites

It’s easy to protect your family’s smile – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
Information about the free basic oral health service available from birth until the 18th birthday, together with advice about cleaning and looking after teeth, and about healthy food for healthy teeth. Available in English, Cook Islands Māori, Māori, Niuean, Samoan, Tokelauan and Tongan.

New Zealand Dental Association
See the section on infants’ and toddlers’ teeth, and the Lift the Lip video.

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