Skip links and keyboard navigation


Strong teeth in childhood set children up for good oral health later in life.

Tooth decay is a leading cause of poor oral health in children. Tooth decay is caused by plaque (a sticky film of germs and left-over food) that coats the teeth. If not brushed away, plaque uses the sugars in foods and drinks to make acid. Over time, this acid rots the tooth away, causing a hole. Tooth decay can cause pain and infection if untreated. Plaque also causes bad breath and red or bleeding gums, called gingivitis.

Make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you think your child has tooth decay or another problem with their teeth or mouth.

Tips to prevent decay in children

Brush teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush

  • Brush morning and night with a small (pea sized) amount of fluoride-toothpaste.
  • Spit, don’t rinse to avoid rinsing away the protective benefits of fluoride.
  • Children need help brushing from an adult until they are around 8 years old.

Use an appropriate fluoride toothpaste for the age of your child

Under 18 months

Don’t use toothpaste, unless advised by a dental practitioner. Wet the toothbrush with water.

From 18 months to 5 years

Use a low-fluoride toothpaste. This is sometimes called children’s toothpaste and has half the fluoride concentration of regular strength toothpaste.

6 years and older

Use a regular strength fluoride toothpaste. Look for a toothpaste that has at least 1000 parts per million fluoride concentration.

Choose foods and drinks that are low in sugar

Snack ideas that are also good for teeth are:

  • A piece of fruit
  • Rice-cakes and cheese
  • A boiled egg
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Small tub of natural yoghurt

Visit the Growing Good Habits website for more healthy food ideas.

Drinking plenty of tap water

  • Plain water contains no sugar and is the best drink for healthy teeth.
  • Water that contains fluoride has the added benefit of helping prevent decay. To find out if your community has water fluoridation ask your local council or dental practitioner.
  • Limit drinks that contain added sugars (e.g. juice, cordial, soft drink, sports drinks) as these cause tooth decay.

Use a mouthguard if playing contact sports

  • Sport is a great way to keep children active.
  • Make sure teeth and gums are protected by a properly fitting mouthguard if your child plays contact sport.
  • Mouthguards that are custom made by a dental practitioner fit the mouth more accurately. They are recommended over ‘over the counter’ mouthguards.

Organise regular dental check-ups

  • Children should have their first dental check-up before their second birthday
  • Children at a higher risk of oral health problems may need more frequent check-ups.

How to brush children’s teeth

Frequently asked questions

What if my child refuses to brush their teeth?

Try to make toothbrushing a positive experience. This may take patience and time to build into a positive routine for your child. Try one of the following tips for fussy brushers:

  • Try toothbrushing when your child is relaxed. If your child becomes upset or frustrated with brushing, try again at a later time.
  • Make brushing part of the daily routine. Brushing before bed is important to protect teeth from decay overnight.
  • Use positive reinforcements to encourage brushing. Try a brushing chart and stickers as reward or brush along to your child’s favourite song.
  • Be a role model – let children see that brushing and flossing are part of your routine and encourage them to join in.
  • As your child gets older, allow them to practice brushing first, but ensure an adult follows up to reach the areas that might be missed.

Can my child use an electric toothbrush?

  • Yes, but it is important to use the right technique and recommended toothpaste.
  • Children need to be supervised by an adult when using an electric toothbrush to ensure they clean all surfaces of their teeth.

More information

Last updated: 5 April 2019