Caring for first teeth

Your baby’s first teeth are important to help them eat and speak properly. They also guide the development of the second set of teeth.  

As soon as your child's teeth start to show, you will need to start brushing them.

Your child will be able to start brushing their own teeth once they can control a pencil and begin to write (about five years old).  However, you will need to supervise brushing until your child is about eight years old.

Use a small soft toothbrush with a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth from the time the first teeth appear. Be very gentle when helping.

Clean their teeth in the morning and before going to bed at night. You might like to teach your child to clean their teeth by letting them use the brush after you have cleaned their teeth for them. They will also develop good teeth cleaning habits by copying you brushing your teeth.

How much toothpaste?

Only a very thin smear of fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush is needed. You will need to put this on the brush for them, as they do not have the skills to put on only a little bit. Children will swallow some of the toothpaste for a while, before learning to spit it out. Using too much toothpaste or letting your child eat toothpaste can cause white speckles on their developing second teeth.

Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay and strengthens their teeth. It is naturally occurring in some water supplies and is added to others. Some areas have very little fluoride in the water. Fluoride tablets are not routinely advised for young children even if your water is not fluoridated.

A fluoride toothpaste is recommended when cleaning teeth and your family dentist or dental therapist can advise you if other fluorides such as fluoride tablets are needed.

Checking your child's teeth

Check your child’s teeth regularly to detect dental decay. The best way to do this is to lift back the lips to check that the teeth are smooth and white and have 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 - dental care is free for children under 18 years.

Plunket staff or other well child health providers can tell you how to contact your local dental clinic and enrol your child. You can do this as soon as the teeth come through. It is a free service. Community dental centres are often located at primary schools, or contact the dental department at your district health board to find the nearest clinic.

Your child needs an adult to help clean their teeth until they are 7 to 8 years old, as before this they do not have the physical skill to do it alone.


Thanks to Colgate and the NZ Dental Association's Healthy Smiles for their contributions.

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