Health & Safety

Dental Health

Brushing teeth: getting started


Under 18 months, don’t use toothpaste. From 18 months to 6 years, use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste. From 6 years, use a pea-sized amount of standard fluoride toothpaste. Use a soft small child’s toothbrush.


Sit or stand behind your child in a brightly lit place, ideally in front of a mirror. This lets your child see what you’re doing. It’s easier to sit toddlers on your lap.


Use your free hand to support your child’s chin. Ask her to open up and say ‘ah’. Check for any signs of decay, such as a white or brown line on the teeth close to the gums. Check for plaque build-up on teeth around the gum line.

Brushing teeth: steps


Using small circular motions, brush all sides of each tooth and the gums. Brush backwards and forwards on all chewing surfaces. Take the most care with the back teeth.


After you’ve finished brushing, your child should spit out any leftover toothpaste, but don’t rinse out the mouth. Rinse toothbrush, and put somewhere clean to dry.


Avoid giving your child sugary snacks or drinks, especially between meals. Avoid giving your child a bottle of milk, formula or juice in bed. Always take away bottles after feeding.


Tooth decay
The main cause of tooth decay is an acid attack on the surfaces of the teeth. This acid is produced by bacteria which cling to the surface of the teeth in a film called dental plaque. Sweet, sticky, sugary foods encourage the plaque to make acid which causes tooth decay and bleeding gums.

Cleaning teeth
Children need to learn how to clean their teeth. Start off by giving your baby a small toothbrush as a toy – bath time is a good time. Start to clean your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear. Use a small, soft toothbrush and water. When the child is older, introduce small amounts of junior fluoride toothpaste onto the brush. Just put a small wipe of toothpaste on the brush.  It is best that your child cleans their teeth the last thing before bed.

It is hard for children under ten to clean their teeth properly. You will need to help at least once a day. If the bacteria have been on the teeth for a long time, the gums may bleed when brushed. This gingivitis tells you that the gums are unhealthy. To get them healthy again the gums need to be cleaned more often, even if they bleed when brushed.

Tips to prevent dental disease
Here are some tips to prevent decay and sore gums for children:

  • Avoid putting infants and young children down with a bottle. Always ensure feeding has ceased before your child goes to sleep to avoid early infant tooth decay
  • Drink fluoridated tap water every day.  If you are not sure if your local water is fluoridated, check with your local council
  • Avoid eating sugary sticky foods, especially between meals
  • Avoid sweet drinks and juices, especially between meals
  • Give your child foods which make them chew
  • Brush twice a day – after breakfast and before bed (use a small toothbrush and a small amount of fluoridated, junior toothpaste)
  • If there’s no toothbrush, rinse with water
  • Use dental floss daily from about 3-4 years of age
  • Visit your dentist regularly
  • Please do not put honey on dummies to get children to sleep.

Dental emergencies
If your child has a toothache or a hole in a tooth, take your child to the dentist immediately. Tooth decay can easily lead to an infection which is very painful for your child.

If your child’s gums bleed during tooth-brushing take your child to the dentist as soon as possible. This bleeding can be caused by lack of proper care for the teeth, or it may be a symptom of a medical condition. Your dentist can check this and advise you.

If your child falls and hurts a tooth take them to the dentist quickly. If the teeth are loose, especially the permanent teeth, they need to be replaced in the socket and splinted as soon as possible, preferably within the hour. The sooner the tooth is back in place the better its chance of survival in the long term. Do not attempt to replace a baby tooth. If a permanent tooth is knocked out
1. Take your child to the nearest dentist or hospital with the tooth/teeth in milk or saline.
2. If unable to get your child to a dentist within one hour:
•    Hold the tooth by the crown
•    Rinse the tooth, if dirty, in milk or saline (use water as a last resort )
•    Do not scrub or touch the root of tooth
•    Replace the tooth in the socket
•    Make sure that the tooth is not back to front- facial surface towards the front. You can check this against the next tooth or someone else’s front tooth.
3. Take your child to a dentist or hospital straight away so they can splint the tooth in place.

Teeth development
Baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the central bottom teeth are often first. Most children have a full set of 20 baby teeth by the time they’re three.

Adult teeth start developing inside babies’ jawbones after birth. After a baby tooth falls out, an adult permanent tooth takes its place.
Children usually start losing their baby teeth from around six years of age. From 6-12 years, children have a mixture of adult and baby teeth. The baby teeth at the back are replaced around 10-12 years of age. By this age, most children have all their adult teeth except for the third molars (wisdom teeth).

The adult teeth don’t get replaced, so you have to look after them.
If your child’s baby teeth came late, the adult teeth will probably be late too. If you’re concerned about your child’s teeth development, see your dentist.

When adult teeth are coming through
Your child might find chewing is more difficult when teeth are loose or missing, but your child still needs to eat healthy foods.
It’s important to keep up your child’s teeth-brushing routine, taking extra care around the loose teeth or sensitive areas. But let loose teeth fall out on their own. If you try to pull out a tooth before it’s ready to fall out, it can snap. This can cause pain and infection.

Sometimes an adult tooth will come through before the baby tooth has fallen out. If the baby tooth hasn’t fallen out within 2-3 months, see your dentist.

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