Teeth: Preschool years

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Key points to remember

  • by the time they are about 2½ years old, most children will have 20 first (primary) teeth
  • good eating habits begin with toddlers
  • avoid children carrying food or drink bottles around and eating all the time
  • give teeth a rest!
  • brush your child's teeth with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day

Children’s teeth in the preschool years

By the time they are about 2½ years, most children will have 20 first (primary) teeth. Even before this, some children develop decay which is called ECC (early childhood caries). This usually involves the top front teeth and the first molar teeth and is more often than not related to the frequent use of feeding bottles and feeding cups.

How can I plan a healthy tooth diet?

Good eating habits begin with toddlers. Occasional snacks like mid-morning and mid-afternoon are all right, but avoid children carrying food or drink bottles around and eating all the time. Avoid sticky foods that stay on the teeth like dried fruits and cake and biscuits. These foods are best eaten at meal times, but try to avoid children having access to sweet foods all the time. Dairy foods can help prevent decay because the proteins put a protective coating on the teeth. Make sure children get dairy foods every day and include these with other foods to help protect teeth.

It is good to remember that teeth need a rest in between eating to let the tooth enamel reharden after acids have been on it. GIVE TEETH A REST.

How often does my child need a dental check?

Even though your child might not need treatment, regular visits can help a child develop confidence at the dental clinic. You never know when they might need treatment – after an accident for example, and if they have had regular checks it is much easier for them to cope.

Can I check my child’s teeth?

It is a good idea to regularly look at the teeth and lift the lips back to check that the teeth are not stained or discoloured. If you notice any discolouration or hole you should get the teeth checked by a dentist or dental therapist.

What toothpaste should my child use?

All children should have their teeth brushed with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day by parents. Ask a dental therapist or dentist about which toothpaste to use. Some pastes on the market do not have enough fluoride to protect teeth. Children cannot brush properly themselves until they are about 6 years old. If they can’t print letters neatly, then they don’t have the fine skills to clean their teeth. Children should be supervised when using toothpaste. Toothpaste should not be eaten.

What should be done when a child accidentally bumps their teeth?

It is important for a dentist to see all teeth injuries, even when the teeth still look all right. The dentist can check that no damage has been done to the nerves or to the developing teeth.

Do medicines cause tooth problems?

Some medicines contain sugar as a preservative. If your child has to take medicine all the time, tell your dentist who can help with extra prevention if there is any risk. Most current medicines do not cause any tooth damage.

What can I do if my child is anxious or afraid about going to the dentist?

If a child has a problem coping with dental care, ask to go to a dentist or paediatric dentist who has completed extra training in caring for children. They are able to offer other options to help children get good dental care.

This page last reviewed 21 November 2013
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2014
Printed on 19 December 2014. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
Content endorsed by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand