Children’s teeth – how to look after them

Expert reviewer, Dr Steve Preddy, Bupa Dental Clinical Director
Next review due, April 2019

Children usually get their first teeth (milk teeth) at around six months. Looking after your child’s teeth from this moment on will help them grow up with healthy teeth and gums. Keeping an eye on what your child eats, their oral hygiene and how regularly they visit the dentist are all important when it comes to caring for your child's teeth.

A little girls' smile, with a missing tooth


Get a suitable toothbrush

When picking a toothbrush to clean your child’s teeth, you should choose one with a small head that will fit into your child’s mouth comfortably. A toothbrush with bristles that are neither too hard nor soft is also ideal.

Replace your child’s toothbrush regularly

Keep a close eye on the condition of your child’s tooth brush. Children’s brushes aren’t as robust as adult brushes and so become worn out quicker. You should replace your child’s toothbrush every three months or earlier if the bristles lose their strength and splay. If the bristles are splayed, you won’t get a thorough clean as they’ll miss certain surfaces.

Use a suitable toothpaste and the right amount

There are lots of different toothpastes available, which can make it hard to know which toothpaste is best for your child’s teeth. To help prevent tooth decay, it’s best to pick a toothpaste that contains something called fluoride. Fluoride can help to protect your child’s enamel and hinder any plaque bacteria that may contribute to tooth decay.

For all children between the ages of zero and six, a toothpaste containing 1350–1500ppm (parts per million) of fluoride is best. Use a smear of toothpaste spread along a toothbrush to clean your child’s teeth if they’re under the age of three. If your child is between the ages of three and six, you should use no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to clean their teeth.

Know how often, and how long, they should brush their teeth

Your child should brush their teeth at least twice a day; once in the evening before bed, and at one other time during the day.

Steve Preddy, Bupa’s Dental Clinical Director says, “If you have young children, it’s a good idea, if practical, to make brushing your teeth a family affair. Children tend to learn quickly by copying behaviour from adults or older siblings. Brush your teeth with your children in the morning before they go to school, and in the evening before going to bed to get them into a good routine.”

Brushing helps to prevent tooth decay by removing plaque and any food that may be stuck on their teeth. There isn’t one technique that’s best. But you should encourage your child to brush each tooth individually and for long enough to get a proper clean - brushing for two minutes is about right.    

Take care over what your child eats and drink

Food and drink that contain lots of added sugar (also called ‘free’ sugars) such as sweets, cakes and non-diet fizzy drinks are bad for your child’s teeth. When your child has them, bacteria on their teeth convert the sugars to acid. This acid strips minerals from the surface of their teeth, damaging their enamel. After a while the acid is normally neutralised by saliva and their teeth begin to repair. However, if your child regularly snacks on sugary food and drink, the surface of their teeth is damaged and doesn’t have enough time to repair before more acid is consumed. This can lead to tooth decay.

Food and drink that is itself acidic can also directly damage your child’s enamel, causing dental erosion. To help prevent this, try to limit acidic food and drink to meal times when more saliva (which can neutralise acid) is produced. You should also encourage your child to finish their meals with a dairy-based product to help neutralise the acid in their mouth. Milk and other dairy products (such as cheese) are also important as they contain lots of calcium which will help keep your child’s teeth strong.

Make regular visits to the dentist

Getting your child familiar with the dentist is important. Regular visits not only help your child feel comfortable, but also allow the dentist to monitor your child’s oral health and resolve any issues before they develop. You should start taking your child to the dentist when their first teeth come through, and for check-ups between every three to 12 months.


Outlined below are some steps you can take to keep your child’s teeth healthy.

Open our PDF infographic on how to care for your child's teeth.

An infographic from Bupa UK on how to care for your child's teeth

Frequently asked questions

  • You child will start to get their first teeth at around six months. As soon as this happens you should begin to brush their teeth. You should carry on helping them until they’re about six or seven years old. As your child gets older, let them brush their own teeth in the morning (while you supervise) to let them get used to it. In the evening brush their teeth for them to make sure their teeth get a thorough clean.

  • Thumb sucking will only affect your child’s teeth if they continue to do it up until the age where their permanent teeth begin to come through their gums. This is when they’re around six.

    More information

    Thumb sucking is a calm and comforting habit. It’s fairly normal for your child to do this when they’re a baby and most children grow out of it with some encouragement. But if your child continues to suck their thumb, it can cause their teeth to grow in the wrong position, or so they don’t align properly when they bite. This may need to be corrected with dental treatment when they get older.

  • Comfort sucking on sugary drinks in bottles or beakers can cause tooth decay. Encouraging your child to drink from a cup rather than a bottle or beaker helps them progress from sucking, to sipping and swallowing, and prevent damage to their teeth. You should start to introduce drinking from a cup to your child when they’re around six months old. When your child is 12 months, you should encourage them to always drink from a cup.

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Related information

    • Teething. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., reviewed May 2014
    • Delivering better oral health: an evidence-based toolkit for prevention. Public Health England., published June 2014 
    • Frequently asked questions. The Center for Pediatric Dentistry., accessed April 2016
    • Toothbrush care: cleaning, storing and replacement. American Dental Association., published November 2011
    • Hand A, Frank M. Fundamentals of oral histology and physiology. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2014
    • Prevention and management of dental caries in children: Dental clinical guidance. Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness programme., published April 2010
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    • Dental checks: intervals between oral health reviews. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), October 2004.
    • Koch G, Poulsen S. Paediatric dentistry: A clinical approach. 2nd ed. Copenhagen: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009
    • Borrie F, Bearn D, Innes N, et al. Interventions for the cessation of non-nutritive sucking habits in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD008694. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008694.pub2.
    • Common behavioural problems in children. PatientPlus., reviewed March 2016
    • Colak H, Dulgergil C, Dalli M, et al. Early childhood caries update: A review of causes, diagnosis and treatments. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2013; 4(1) 29–38. doi:  10.4103/0976-9668.107257
    • Infants and preschool children. Oxford handbook of nutrition and dietetics (online). Oxford Medicines Online., published January 2012
    • Dr Steve Preddy, Bupa Dental Clinical Director, April 2016
  • Reviewed by Laura Blanks, Specialist Health Editor – Quality, Bupa Health Content Team, April 2016.
    Expert reviewer, Dr Steve Preddy, Bupa Dental Clinical Director
    Next review due, April 2019

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