By Raising Children Network
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Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental habits for life and creates good dental patients.
Healthy teeth and gums are vital to your child’s general health. You can get your child off to a great start by cleaning his teeth twice a day.

Teeth development

Different children get teeth at different times, but first teeth usually appear between 6 and 10 months. In some children, teeth appear as early as three 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 the baby teeth will usually arrive by the time your child’s 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 just have to look after them.


Many people think that ‘teething’ children:

  • cry a lot or seem extra cranky
  • don’t feed as well as usual
  • suck on objects such as toys, dummies and bibs
  • have more dirty nappies more often
  • pull the ear on the same side as the tooth coming through.

There’s debate about whether these signs are caused by teething. They might just be a normal part of development or a result of minor infections and illnesses.

If your child isn’t well, it’s always best to take her to the doctor, especially if she has a fever or diarrhoea, or you’re worried about any other symptoms.
Things to try
If you’re concerned about your child’s teething, you can try:
  • giving your child something to bite on, such as a cold (but not frozen) teething ring, toothbrush or dummy
  • cooking mushier foods, which need less chewing
  • giving your child something firm, like a sugar-free rusk, to suck on.

If your child still seems unhappy or uncomfortable, it’s time to see your doctor or child health nurse. Teething might not be the problem.

Cleaning your child’s teeth

Teeth need cleaning twice a day – in the morning and before bed.

Use a small, soft toothbrush designed for children under two years. Water is all you need on the toothbrush until your child’s 18 months old (unless a dentist tells you otherwise).

From 18 months, it’s OK to use a pea-sized smear of low-fluoride toothpaste on the brush. Encourage your child to brush without swallowing, and spit out the toothpaste after brushing.

    Your child can start helping to clean his teeth at around two years of age. Letting him hold the toothbrush with you will help him feel he’s part of the action. But your child will need your help and supervision with cleaning teeth until he’s about eight years old. 

    Teeth cleaning alone isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay – diet is also important to your child’s oral health. For more information, you might like to read our article on preventing tooth decay.
    The best way to clean your child’s teeth

    You might like to try the following routine when brushing your child’s teeth:

    1. Stand or sit behind your child so that she feels secure. Doing it in front of a mirror is good too, because it lets you see your child’s mouth.
    2. Cup her chin in your hands with her head resting against your body.
    3. 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.
    4. Brush back and forth on the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
    5. Gently brush your child’s tongue.

    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.

    Kids don’t always like having their teeth cleaned, but they’re more likely to go along with it if you can make it fun. You could try singing – ‘This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth, so early in the morning’. Another idea is pretend the toothbrush is a train, saying ‘Toot toot chugga chugga’ as you move it around your child’s teeth.

    Toothpaste and fluoride
    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 added fluoride. Fluoride is considered safe and beneficial for strong teeth. In fact, fluoride works best when it’s taken in very small amounts throughout the day via sources such as fluoridated tap water, foods and drinks containing fluoride, and low-fluoride toothpaste.

    You can start using a low-fluoride toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush from 18 months of age. You need to use only a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste. Encourage your child to spit the toothpaste out as you clean. He doesn’t need to rinse with water, though. The small amount of fluoridated toothpaste still in his mouth will help build strong, healthy teeth. 

    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.

    Toothbrushes should be replaced every 3-4 months, or when the bristles get worn or frayed.

    Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental habits for life and creates good dental patients.

    Other teeth concerns

    Many toddlers still love their dummies. But it might be a good idea to encourage your child to let go of the dummy at this stage.

    Sucking thumbs or fingers is a natural reflex in babies and young children. Most children grow out of finger sucking around 2-4 years of age.

    Teeth-grinding in toddlers is pretty common and doesn’t usually need treatment. Some children clench their jaws quite firmly, and others grind their teeth so hard that it makes a noise. Some children grind their teeth during sleep. Often, they don’t wake up when they do it – but other people do!

    Most of the time, teeth-grinding doesn’t last and doesn’t cause damage to your child’s teeth. But it could lead to your child experiencing headaches, tooth or jaw pain, or wearing down her teeth. If it does keep going or you’re concerned, you might want to talk to your dentist.

    Injuries to your toddler’s face and teeth can occur once he’s walking, running and climbing. It’s a good idea to see a doctor or dentist if your child damages his teeth or face.

    Visiting the dentist

    Children should have an oral health assessment 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 how often your child should have her teeth checked.

    Your child might not always see a dentist – many other ‘oral health professionals’ are fully qualified to work on your child’s teeth, depending on your child’s needs. They include dental therapists, dental hygienists and oral health therapists.

    Public dental care
    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.

    Private dental care
    There are private dental clinics all over Australia. You’ll have to pay for your appointments, but people with private health insurance might receive a rebate after attending.

    Video Caring for your child's teeth

    This short video shows you how to care for children’s teeth. It includes advice on encouraging children to drink tap water, brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first ones are through and avoiding sugary drinks. Parents also talk about how important it is to avoid giving your child a bottle of milk in bed.
    • Last updated or reviewed 27-01-2012
    • Acknowledgements Raising Children Network would like to thank Martine Calache, Professor Hanny Calache and Susanne Sofronoff of Dental Health Services Victoria for their help in reviewing and writing this article.