Healthy teeth = a healthy smile

Here are 10 top tips to protect your child’s smile and encourage healthy teeth!

1 Keep checking

Don’t wait for teeth problems; take your child for regular check-ups. Your dental therapist or dentist will let you know how often you need to take your child. Dental check-ups for young children mean that problems are recognised and treated early. Try to get an appointment for a time when your child is not tired, and always be positive about dental visits. Use positive language, such as “keeping your teeth healthy” and “keeping your smile beautiful.”

2 Brush regularly

Regular brushing helps you look and feel good, and also helps prevent decay and gum disease. As soon as your child’s teeth start to show, start brushing. Get your child into the habit of brushing twice a day – after breakfast and before bed. Once a child can control a pencil and begins to write (at around age five), they should be able to brush their own teeth. You’ll need to supervise brushing until your child is about eight years old.

3 How to brush

As soon as your child has teeth, they should be brushed. Use just a smear of fluoride toothpaste on a small, soft toothbrush for a child under six years, and a pea-sized amount for a child six years and over. It can be difficult to brush your toddler’s teeth, but keep trying because healthy teeth are important to your child’s development and for the future health of their permanent teeth. You may find it easier to stand behind your child and gently tilt their head back as you brush.

4 Spit, don’t rinse

Remember to teach your child to spit out after toothbrushing. Do not rinse with water, because a small amount of fluoride toothpaste left around the teeth will help protect them.

5 Get flossing

Flossing cleans away plaque and bits of food from between your teeth and below the gum line. It gets to places that your brush can’t reach. A child should start flossing when two teeth touch. This usually happens when the first back teeth appear. To begin with, you will have to floss your child’s teeth, but they will eventually learn to do it for themselves. Floss once a day. If you are not sure how to floss, talk to your dental professional or call 0800 Talk Teeth (0800 825 583).

6 Checking teeth

Gently lift your child’s top lip once a month to check inside their mouth. It’s a quick and easy way to see whether decay is present in its early, treatable stages. Look for white spots at the gumline, particularly on the upper front teeth. Also look for discoloured areas or pieces of missing teeth. Check that gums look healthy, not puffy or bleeding. Visit your dental professional if you have any concerns. Just call 0800 Talk Teeth (0800 825 583) if you’re unsure what to do next.

7 No bottles at bedtime

Put babies to bed with a story, not a bottle. If they fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, take it out.

8 Bottles & Dummies

Sugar in sweet drinks, fizzy drinks, fruit juice or sweetened milk can harm your child’s teeth, especially at bedtime. Babies get holes in their teeth from sucking for long periods of time on bottles containing sweetened drinks or from sleeping with a bottle in their mouth. If a baby falls asleep with a bottle in their mouth, they produce less saliva to wash away the acid that causes decay. Try to use a cup for drinks rather than a bottle. Water or milk is best. Never dip your baby’s dummy into anything sweet as this will almost certainly lead to tooth decay. Dummies need to be clean, free of sugary substances, safe, and never shared.

9 Drink water

Get your child to drink a glass of water after having a sweet drink. Even though diet drinks do not contain sugar, if they are acidic, eg a diet cola, they can cause erosion of your child’s teeth. The best drinks for your child’s teeth are water and milk. Most other drinks have sugar in them, although in some drinks, the sweetness is from natural sugar, e.g., in pure fruit juice. Save sweet drinks for mealtimes (if at all) and use a straw. Encourage your child to choose water– it’s fresh and free!

10 Minimise sweets

If you give your child sweet foods and drinks, it is best to do so only occasionally (less than once a week) at meal times. Saliva is the body’s natural defence against tooth decay – constantly replacing the minerals in teeth and washing away acids. To give saliva a chance to work, limit the number of times your child eats throughout the day. Eating three meals and two snacks each day is best. Give teeth a rest from sugar and try to offer healthy snacks between meals.

Sport and mouth guards

A child should wear a mouth guard when playing sport to protect their teeth and gums. If a tooth is damaged
or lost, see a dental professional straight away. If a tooth is knocked out, put it back into the socket if you can. If you can’t, keep the tooth moist by putting it into the child’s mouth next to their cheek or in a cup of milk. Take the tooth and the child to your dentist as quickly as possible − the dentist may be able to save your child’s tooth.

Dental care is free for children

Children in New Zealand are entitled to free basic oral health services from 0 to 17 years of age, until their 18th birthday. It’s important to enrol your child as early as possible into the service so that you can arrange the first check-up. Your child’s first visit will usually be between their first and second birthdays. It’s easy to enrol; just call 0800 Talk Teeth (0800 825 583) or visit If your child is in Year 9 or above, you can choose your dentist. Simply fill in the forms and give them to your chosen dental practice.

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