How to brush your child’s teeth  

Starting to clean your child’s teeth as soon as they pop through the gums will help keep their teeth and gums healthy. Brushing their teeth twice a day will help make toothbrushing a part of their regular daily routine, hopefully for the rest of their life. 

Your child will be able to start brushing their own teeth when they're coordinated enough to tie their own shoelaces (usually between five to eight years old)  – but until then, it’s up to you! It can be a bit challenging to get them to stand still, and you may find it easier to stand behind them and gently tilt their head back as you brush. Use a small toothbrush with soft bristles.

You only need a very thin smear of fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush – it’s a good idea to put it on the toothbrush yourself rather than letting your child squeeze it on. Children will swallow some of the toothpaste for a while before learning to spit it out, so just use a little. If you use too much toothpaste, or let them eat it, it can cause white speckles on their developing second teeth. 

Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay and strengthens their teeth, so fluoride toothpaste is recommended. Fluoride occurs naturally in some water supplies and is added to others - even if your water isn't fluoridated, fluoride tablets aren't routinely advised for young children. Fluoride tablet aren't routinely advised for young children.

Here's how to brush their teeth.

Steps Instructions

Step 1

Place the brush at an angle on the outer gumline with the bristles facing towards the gum. Wiggle gently back and forth, repeat for each tooth.

Step 2

Then brush the inside of each tooth using the same wiggling technique as in Step 1.

Step 3

Brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth using a backward and forward motion.

Step 4

Use the tip of the brush behind each front tooth both top and bottom.

Step 5

Gently brush the tongue and gum line.

Step 6

For upper teeth, have the child tilt their head right back. Once two teeth are touching, you can start flossing too. Use waxed floss tied in a circle. Ask your child to lie down and open their mouth wide, and floss between all teeth that are touching.
Thanks to Colgate and the NZ Dental Association's Healthy Smiles for their contributions.

Clean your wee one's teeth in the morning and before they go to bed at night. You might like to teach them to clean their teeth by letting them have a turn after you've finished brushing their teeth for them. They'll also develop good teeth cleaning habits by copying you brushing your teeth.  

Taking your child for regular dental check-ups

Regular check-ups increase the chances of finding and treating any holes or tooth decay in your child’s teeth.  

As soon as the teeth come through, enrol your child with your local Community Oral Health Service by calling 0800 TALK TEETH or (0800 825 583). Community dental services are often located in primary schools. Your dental therapist will tell you how often your child should have a check-up. 

Basic dental care is free in New Zealand until children turn 18. 

If your child accidentally bumps their teeth, take them to a dental therapist in your community dental centre or to a dentist, even if the teeth still look alright. 

Checking your child’s teeth

It’s a good idea to check your child’s teeth regularly to check for dental decay. Lift your child’s lips to check their teeth are smooth and white, with no brown or yellow stains. If you notice any brown areas on their teeth, take your child to a dental therapist or your family dentist. 

What does dental decay look like?

Common dental problems

Choosing healthy drinks and food

To protect your child’s teeth, choose healthy foods and drinks.  

The best drinks for your child’s teeth are water and milk. Drinks with natural or added sugar, like juice, cordial, fizzy drinks, flavoured milk and chocolate drinks, can cause tooth decay. Children don’t need sweet drinks. 

To protect your child’s teeth, give them low-sugar snacks like fruit, fresh vegetables, yoghurt and other dairy foods.  

Healthy eating = healthy teeth.