Caring for your child's teeth: 1 to 2 years

Your child will have most of their baby teeth by the time they are two. Find out 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

Healthy teeth = a healthy smile. Follow these 5 steps to protect your child’s smile.

  1. Brush teeth twice a day.
  2. Have regular dental check-ups.
  3. Lift the lip every month to check for signs of tooth decay (holes).
  4. Choose healthy snacks.
  5. Drink water or milk.

Brush teeth twice a day

Most of your child’s first teeth will come through by about 2 years of age. These ‘baby’ teeth will help your child to eat and speak well. Healthy baby teeth usually mean healthy adult teeth too, so it’s important that you look after your child’s first teeth.

Look after your child’s first teeth by brushing them twice a day – after breakfast and before bed. You may find it easier to stand behind your child and gently tilt their head back as you brush. Use a small toothbrush with soft bristles and a smear of regular-strength fluoride toothpaste.

Brush your child’s teeth for 2 minutes:

  • all around the inside surfaces, where the teeth meet the gums, and also the top chewing surfaces
  • on the front of the teeth, brushing in tiny circles all around the outside surfaces, 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.

Regular dental check-ups

Your child 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. Regular check-ups of your child’s teeth increase the chances of finding and treating any tooth decay (holes) early.

To enrol with a service or to make an appointment, phone 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583). Your dental therapist will tell you how often your child should have a check-up.

If your child accidentally bumps their teeth, take them to a dental therapist in the Community Oral Health Service or a dentist, even if the teeth still look all right.

Lift the lip

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 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 here.

Choose healthy snacks

Healthy eating = healthy teeth. To protect your child’s teeth, give them low-sugar snacks between meals such as fruit, fresh vegetables, yoghurt and other dairy foods. Foods that are high in sugar can damage your child’s teeth and cause tooth decay.

Drink water or milk

The best drinks for your child’s teeth are water and milk. Do not give your child drinks that have natural or added sugar, such as fruit juice, cordial, fizzy drinks, flavoured milks and chocolate drinks. These can cause tooth decay. (For tips on reducing the amount of sugar in your child’s food and drink, see the Preventing tooth decay by cutting down on sugar section.)

You should put only water or milk in your child’s bottle.

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.

Eating for healthy babies and toddlers – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
Food information for babies and toddlers from birth to 2 years old. Includes breastfeeding and the benefits of breastmilk, formula feeding, drinking plenty of fluids, starting solids, how to prevent choking, healthy eating habits, and meal ideas for babies and toddlers.


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