Your no-nonsense guide to caring for your toddler’s teeth

Baby teeth brushing – a walk in the park or your greatest parenting battle so far?


Do baby teeth really matter?

Yes! Some people (not you, readers!) think that baby teeth aren’t that important as children get a second set anyway. Wrong. This first set of teeth is vital for your child to eat solid food and for speech development. Plus, baby teeth provide the space dividers needed for adult teeth to come through properly. Which means that baby teeth brushing is essential! “It’s crucial to look after your toddler’s oral health,” says dentist and trustee of the Oral Health Foundation Ben Atkins. “The routines you build now will create healthy habits for life.”

Brushing is a battlefield and my toddler won’t even open her mouth – what do I do?

Getting them up for teeth brushing is so important – so use whatever means necessary! “It’s got to be fun,” says Ben. Make it a game (each tooth could be a car that needs washing?) or play a two-minute song they love, and you brush along. “There are some fantastic apps that will give your toddler an extra incentive – or let them choose a character toothbrush.” Remember, children see you as role models so make sure they see you happily brushing your teeth twice a day.

My feisty toddler wants to brush her own teeth – shall I let her?

Of course, it’s great that she’s up for it. Then, however, you’ll need to go in and “check” she’s done it right (ie brush them again). “Most children need proper supervision until they are about seven,” says Ben.

What food and drinks are best for toddler teeth?

Every 10 minutes a child in England has a rotten tooth removed because of avoidable decay. “It’s heartbreaking to see children having teeth removed and the main cause of this is sugar consumption,” says Ben. Three balanced meals a day and non-sugary snacks are what’s needed (fresh fruit and veg, rice cakes, home-made popcorn and cheese). “Give them water or milk to drink and not sugary drinks. Like regular brushing, this establishes the right habits early on,” says Ben.

Bottle or cup?

Your little one loves snuggling up with a bottle, we know. But using bottles for too long can be a factor in early tooth decay as it keeps the liquid in their mouth for longer, touching the teeth. From six months is the time to start gently moving them onto a cup – with a free-flowing lid if an open top is too much of a leap – with the aim of weaning them off the bottle completely by the time they turn one.

How often should I take my toddler to the dentist?

You can take them as soon as their first tooth starts poking through but if you missed that slot, don’t worry, just book them in now. “Children should ideally have their first appointment before their first birthday – and after this, as often as your dentist recommends,” says Ben. The purpose of the visit is to get them comfortable with the surgery. “Parents who are afraid of the dentist tend to have children who are too.” Make them see that it’s nothing to worry about and can even be an exciting day out!

They're growing fast!