Healthy teeth and gums are vital to your child’s general health. Dental care for toddler teeth starts with cleaning your child’s teeth twice a day.
Toddler teeth development
Children get teeth at different times, but first teeth usually appear between 6 and 10 months. In some children, teeth appear as early as 3 months. In others, they don’t arrive until around 12 months.
Baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the central bottom teeth are often first. All 20 baby teeth will usually arrive by the time your child is three years old.
The 32 adult teeth replace the baby teeth between the ages of 6 and 20 years. The adult teeth don’t get replaced – so you need to look after them.
Dental care: cleaning toddler teeth and gums
Toddler teeth need cleaning twice a day – in the morning and before bed.
Use a small, soft toothbrush designed for children under two years. Just use water on the toothbrush until your child is 18 months old (unless a dentist tells you otherwise). At 18 months, you can start using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste.
Your child can start helping to clean her teeth at around two years of age. Letting her hold a toothbrush with you will help her feel she’s part of the action. But your child will need your help and supervision with cleaning teeth until she’s about eight years old.
Teeth cleaning alone isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay
. Diet and the way you feed your child are also important.
The best way to brush your child’s teeth
You might like to try the following routine when brushing your child’s teeth:
- Stand or sit behind your child so that he feels secure. Doing it in front of a mirror is good too, because it lets you see your child’s mouth.
- Cup your child’s chin in your hands with her head resting against your body.
- Angle the bristles of the toothbrush towards the gum. Move the brush in gentle circles to clean the outer and inner sides of the teeth and gums. Lift your child’s lips to brush the front and back of the teeth and at the gum line.
- Brush back and forth on the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- Gently brush your child’s tongue.
- Encourage your child to brush without swallowing. When your child starts using toothpaste, get him to spit it out. There’s no need to rinse after brushing because the fluoride toothpaste left behind protects your child’s teeth.
If you’re using an electric toothbrush, avoid moving the brush in circles. Keep your hand still, and guide the brush across your child’s teeth and gums.
Children are more likely to go along with cleaning teeth if it’s fun and part of a daily routine. For example, you can sing ‘This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth, so early in the morning’ while you’re brushing. Or you could pretend the toothbrush is a train, saying ‘Toot toot chugga chugga’ as you move it around your child’s teeth.
It’s important to choose the right toothbrush – one designed especially for children aged 2-5 years. These toothbrushes have small oval heads, soft bristles of different heights and a non-slip, cushioned handle. They also often have cartoons and fun designs on the handle, which your child might like.
The novelty of electric toothbrushes might also appeal to your child. Some electric toothbrushes can give a slightly better clean than manual brushes, but it’s best to go with what your child prefers.
Keeping the toothbrush clean
After cleaning your child’s teeth and gums, rinse the toothbrush with tap water.
Store the toothbrush upright in an open container to allow it to air-dry.
If other family members’ toothbrushes are stored in the same place, make sure the brushes don’t touch. This reduces the risk that decay-causing germs will travel between brushes and into your child’s mouth. And no sharing when it comes to toothbrushes! One for each family member is best.
You should replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months, or when the bristles get worn or frayed.
Toothpaste and fluoride
You can start using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush from 18 months of age.
Fluoride is a mineral that helps build strong teeth and bones and prevents tooth decay. If children take in too much fluoride, it can cause fluorosis, which is a build-up of white marks on the teeth. Although this affects the appearance of the teeth, it doesn’t usually affect health.
Most tap water in Australia has very low amounts of added fluoride. Fluoride is safe and helps teeth grow strong. Fluoride works best when you get it in very small amounts throughout the day in fluoridated tap water, foods and drinks containing fluoride, and low-fluoride toothpaste.
Video Dental care for children
This short dental care video shows you how to care for kids’ teeth. It includes advice on encouraging children to drink tap water, brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first ones are through, avoiding sugary drinks, and not taking bottles of milk to bed.
Visiting the dentist
Children should visit the dentist to have their teeth checked by the time they’re two years old. This lets your child get to know the dentist. It also gives you and your dentist a chance to talk about your child’s needs and plan your child’s dental care.
Your child might not always see a dentist – many other oral health professionals are fully qualified to give you advice and work on your child’s teeth, depending on your child’s needs. They include dental therapists, dental hygienists and oral health therapists.
Dental health care in Australia
Dental care for children is often free in the public dental system, up to a certain age. Contact your local public dental provider for details.
There are private dental clinics all over Australia. You’ll have to pay for your appointments, but people with private health insurance might get some money back from their private health fund.