Caring for your preschooler's teeth

Caring for your preschooler's teeth

Healthy baby teeth usually mean healthy adult teeth. Find out how you can look after your child's teeth.

Your child: Healthy teeth

Watch 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. Transcript available at the Ministry of Health website.

Ministry of Health video.

5 steps to protect your baby's smile

Healthy teeth = a healthy smile.

Follow these 5 steps to protect your pre-schooler'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

By about 3 years of age your child will have their first set of teeth – 20 'baby' teeth. These 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 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.

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.

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.

You can read about tooth decay and what to look for You can read about tooth decay and what to look for on the Plunket website. 

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.

This page last reviewed 24 September 2018.
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