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Your child's long term dental health

Spotting your child’s first tooth is such an exciting milestone. It can happen at any time in their first year, but they often start to come through when they’re around 6 months old.

From the moment you spot a tooth, it’s important that you start looking after them. In England:

  • Tooth decay is the main reason that children aged 5-9 years are admitted into hospital
  • Over 140 children have teeth removed every day because of tooth decay
  • As many as a 1 in 4 of all 5 to 9 year olds have experienced tooth decay in several teeth

Worrying isn’t it? Tooth decay is mostly preventable. It can cause children a lot of pain. It can have a knock on effect on their sleep and behaviour too.

Reduce the risk of tooth decay

There are a few easy things you can do to help protect your children’s teeth and gums and reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Reduce the amount of sugar in your child’s food and drink. Every time we have something sugary, the bacteria in the dental plaque in the mouth will produce acid that will attack the teeth. The more often we have sugary foods and drinks, the more ‘acid attacks’ we will have and this causes teeth to decay.

As soon as you see that first little tooth appear, brush twice a day: 

  • Use a fluoride toothpaste containing 1350-1500ppm fluoride (you can find this on the side of the tube)
  • If your child is under 3 years, just use a smear of toothpaste, but if they are 3-6 years use a pea sized amount of toothpaste
  • Brush their teeth or supervise them brushing their own until they are at least 7 years old to make sure that they’re doing it well
  • All the surfaces need to be cleaned, making sure that the gum line is cleaned as this is where a lot of the plaque forms
  • Choose a toothbrush with a small head and medium texture bristles
  • Brush for at least 2 minutes
  • When you’ve finished brushing, encourage them to spit out the toothpaste, but don’t rinse with water, as this will rinse away the fluoride
  • Always brush your child’s teeth at bedtime as this will protect their teeth while they’re sleeping

Start taking your little one to the dentist as early as possible! Take them along with you for your check-ups to get them used to the experience and environment so that it’s familiar to them. Once their first tooth has appeared, take them to see the dentist and then take them every 6 months. When your child is 3, you can ask your dentist about a fluoride varnish, which is a coating that can be applied to protect their teeth. Remember, dental treatment is free for children (and mothers from the start of pregnancy until your child is one year old).


Quite simply, too much sugar is the main culprit of tooth decay. Some foods naturally have a high amount of sugar in them. The sugars that are in unsweetened fruit juices, honey and syrups and the sugars that are added to food and drinks are sometimes called ‘free sugars’. Children aged 4-6 should not have more than 19g per day.

  • Don’t to give your child drinks sweetened with sugar such as squash, fizzy drinks and juice drinks
  • Limit unsweetened fruit juice or smoothies to only one glass (150mls) a day as even unsweetened fruit juice/smoothies are sugary
  • Always serve sweet drinks and any sweet foods, such as dried fruit, with a meal as this can help to reduce the risk of tooth decay
  • Avoid adding sugar or honey to any drinks or food
  • If your child is unwell and needs medicine, you can ask to have this sugar free
  • Never give sugary drinks or food just before bedtime
  • Sugar is also hidden in lots of shop-bought foods, including savoury foods, to make them taste nicer. Check food labels as items such as pasta sauces, ready meals and ketchup can have a lot of sugar and salt added to them
  • Regardless of whether sugar is brown, white, unrefined or in the form of honey, sugar is sugar and no one type is ‘healthy’

Find out more

Visit Change4Life to see what healthy foods you could swap sugary foods for. 

Download the ‘Be Food Smart’ app and find out how much sugar shop-bought foods contain. You'll find it at the bottom of the webpage.

For further information about how to look after your child’s teeth, visit the NHS website

If you are not already registered with a dentist you can find an NHS dentist near you and find out about their policy relating to COVID-19 as well, as things are likely to be a bit different in their service right now.

The Brush DJ app is a great way to encourage older children to brush their teeth. 

About the author

Helen Wood is a student Health Visitor