Toddler teeth development
First teeth usually appear between 6 and 10 months. But in some children, teeth appear as early as 3 months. In others, they don’t arrive until around 12 months. All 20 baby teeth usually arrive by the time children are 3 years old.
Baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the lower incisors are often first, followed by the upper incisors. The first molars are usually next, followed by the canines and second molars.
Common toddler teeth issues include teething. Teething can cause children to rub their gums together. Many people think that teething causes other things too, like irritability and diarrhoea. These things might happen because of teething, but they might also be a normal part of development or a result of minor infections and illnesses.
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 your child’s age. Use water on the toothbrush until your child is 18 months old, unless a dentist tells you otherwise. From 18 months to 3 years, you can start using a smear-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste, unless a dentist recommends otherwise.
Your child can start helping to clean their teeth at around 2 years of age. Letting your child hold the toothbrush with you will help them feel they’re part of the action. But your child needs your help and supervision with cleaning teeth until they’re about 8 years old.
The best way to brush children’s teeth
You might like to try the following routine when brushing your child’s teeth:
- Stand or sit behind your child so that they feel secure. Brushing teeth 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 their head resting against your body.
- Angle the bristles of the toothbrush towards the gum. If you’re using a manual toothbrush, move the brush in gentle circles. If you’re using an electric toothbrush, move the brush gently across the teeth.
- Brush the outer and inner sides of the teeth and along the gumline. Brush along 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 them to spit it out. There’s no need to rinse after brushing because the fluoride toothpaste left behind protects your child’s teeth.
Your child might like to brush their own teeth, so you can let them have a go first. After they brush, you can finish and make sure all tooth surfaces are brushed properly.
Tips to make brushing teeth easier
Toddlers often don’t want to spend time brushing their teeth, but even a quick brush is better than no brush at all. It helps your child learn that brushing teeth is part of the daily routine.
Children are more likely to go along with cleaning teeth if it’s fun. Here are some ideas:
- Sing while you’re brushing. You could try ‘This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth’.
- Pretend the toothbrush is a train. You could try saying ‘Toot toot chugga chugga’ as you move the brush around your child’s teeth.
- Let your child play with their favourite toy while you’re brushing.
Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental habits for life.
Toothbrushes: choosing and keeping them clean
Choosing a toothbrush
It’s important to choose a toothbrush designed especially for children aged 2-5 years. These toothbrushes have small oval heads, soft bristles and non-slip, cushioned handles. They also often have cartoons and fun designs on the handle, which your child might like.
Electric and manual toothbrushes are equally good, as long as you use them properly to clean all the surfaces of all your child’s teeth. If you’re deciding between a manual and an electric toothbrush, it’s OK to let your child choose.
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.
You should replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months or when the bristles get worn or frayed.
Fluoride and dental care
Fluoride is a mineral that keeps teeth strong and prevents tooth decay. Fluoride is safe and works best when your child gets it in very small amounts throughout the day in:
- toothpaste – your child can use a low-fluoride toothpaste from 18 months.
- tap water – most tap water in Australia has added fluoride.
- foods containing fluoride, like fruit and vegetables.
Teeth cleaning alone isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay. Healthy eating is also important. Avoid giving your child sugary foods and sugary drinks like fruit juice, soft drink and flavoured milk. Don’t put your child to bed with a bottle of milk. And don’t dip dummies into food, sugar or liquids like honey.
Visiting the dentist
Children should visit the dentist to have their teeth checked by about 12 months of age or when their first tooth comes through, whichever happens first. 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.
Talk to your dentist about how often your child needs a check-up. Dentists usually recommend every 6-12 months.
Your child might also see other oral health professionals, depending on your child’s needs. These include dental therapists, dental hygienists and oral health therapists or specialist dentists like paediatric dentists.
Dental care in Australia
Dental care for children is often free in the public dental system, up to a certain age. For details of public dental providers, see your state or territory’s health department website.
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.
If you’re eligible, the Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefits Schedule covers basic dental services for children aged 0-17 years at most private and public dental clinics.