Caring for your child's teeth

Child biting toothbrushAlthough pretty savvy on most child health issues, many of us are less clear on how best to care for our children's teeth and by the time you get to the dentist with your three year old who's lived on nothing but raisins and milk, it's often too late.

So how much fluoride should a small child have? Is it better to chew on chocolate buttons or raisins? Do apples clean your teeth or kill them? Fizzy water: yes or no?

To help fill in some of the gaps (no pun intended) we've collated some of your top tips on maintaining dental health and encouraging reluctant brushers. 


Mumsnetters' top child dental care tips

  • Start cleaning teeth as soon as they appear. It might seem crazy to be buying a toothbrush for a single tooth, but as someone who has seen my children go through the horrors of painful dental treatment, I wish I'd been more fastidious! Gigi
  • Teeth can only cope with three sugar onslaughts a day, so let them have sugary stuff with meals only. That means after-school snacks need to be sugar-free. Hotcrossbunny
  • The truth about brushing
    After eating, children should wait an hour before brushing or they could risk dental erosion. If time constraints mean this isn’t possible, then they should brush before breakfast. After breakfast they can then rinse their mouth with water to wash away any food debris. They should then brush their teeth last thing at night before bedtime (but an hour after their evening meal).
  • Develop a water habit from the off. My two have juice or squash rarely and don't miss it. Smugmumofboys
  • If they won't drink plain water, water their juice/squash down - one part juice to 10 parts water. princessmel
  • If you have to have fruit juice, it is better for teeth if children drink it through a straw (rather than from a cup/bottle/sippy cup). Bon
  • Avoid fizzy water. Although it doesn't have sugar, the carbonated water attacks enamel in just the same way as acid. Holly3
  • If you can't clean your teeth after eating something sweet, munch on a piece of cheese or drink some still water. Zippitoes
  • Pick your parents wisely - so much of this is down to your genes. Some people are just more prone to having problems with gums/tartar/decay than others. If you haven't picked your parents well, use a fluoride toothpaste and spit don't rinse. That leaves some of the toothpaste around the teeth to do its work, especially useful overnight or after sweet stuff. KMJ
  • If you have problems with decay in milk teeth, ask your dentist about fissure sealants. This is a way of protecting a child's adult teeth from decay, but you have to get the timing right, so ask early. Roberta
  • If your child is offered the antibiotic tetracycline be aware that this may cause problems down the line as it can attack the developing enamel. RitchieHill
  • The truth about milk
    Although milk is an excellent source of calcium, vitamins and minerals it does contain lactose, which is a natural sugar.
    If milk is consumed frequently there is a higher risk of dental decay, so should ideally be drunk around a meal time.
  • If your toddler falls asleep with a bottle of milk every night you may be risking serious cavities. My son did this and ended up with every 'milk' tooth filled. Apparently, you don't create saliva as you sleep so the sugars in the milk stick to the teeth. If they have to have a bottle to go to sleep, make sure it's a bottle of water. champagnesupernova
  • Raisins and dried fruit are the devil's food as they stick to the teeth. My dentist says you're better off giving them chocolate buttons rather than dried fruit (as far as their teeth are concerned.) Robinpud
  • If you can live with all the other dodgy ingredients and the sight of your child chewing (and the consequences of them possibly swallowing it) sugar-free chewing gum is good for your teeth because it promotes the flow of saliva, which is the mouth's natural cleanser. churchy
  • It's not how much sugar you have, but when you have it. Better (for your teeth if not your waistline) to eat six chocolate bars with a meal and then nothing else sweet all week, than have one chocolate bar chopped up and eaten in between meals every day. Great excuse to get all those Easter eggs/selection boxes out of the way in one go. Biza
  • Although fluoride protects teeth, too much is a bad thing, so don't let your child eat toothpaste or they will end up with white speckles on their teeth. CLL
  • Keep checking on your child's teeth-cleaning action until they are quite old – the dentist says until age 7 but I'd go at least as far as age 10! It's sad, but true that even when they know the facts, they still try and get away with a too-speedy brushing (or shock horror, miss it out altogether) … or maybe that's just my children! munchpot
  • Big up your dentist. My child loves the idea of the magic chair and always gets stickers. If they get a good relationship from the start, they're more likely to want to take care of their teeth to please the nice dentist. Hamkin

Reluctant brushers

The truth about yoghurt
Natural yoghurt is good for the teeth and can make a healthy snack, but fruit yoghurts can have quite a high sugar content so should be limited to mealtimes where possible.

Expanding our dental hygiene knowledge is one thing, pinning our children down for longer than ten seconds, let alone two minutes, to make them brush their teeth is quite another.

Rest assured that if you struggle with this you're not alone in your daily bathroom battle. Read on for inspiration, tips and advice and if all that fails, there's always bribery (just not with raisins, dried fruit, fizzy drinks or sugary sweets).

  • Make it a family affair; we clean our teeth at the same time, make funny noises, gargle loudly and spit extravagantly (into the sink!). Littlelapin
  • Invest in an electric toothbrush, preferably one with timers. My children love them and it's really helped them know how long they should be cleaning their teeth for. Bosch
  • Try using a 'disclosing' tablet to show how much plaque is left after they've brushed. Our son was fascinated, and his brushing has been much better ever since. legacy
  • We showed our daughter Daddy's teeth (loads of black fillings) and told her that your teeth go black if you don't brush them. We've never had a problem since! lalaa
  • My son used to hate having his teeth brushed when he was tiny. I had a breakthrough one night when I brushed his teeth while he was in the bath - he was happy and distracted, and I got two jobs done at once. Clean teeth, clean child, and more story time. Cq
The truth about fruit
If children eat fruit, give them a small piece of cheese to eat afterwards to neutralise the acids, and steer clear of dried fruit.
  • Have two toothbrushes on the go at once, so they can be having a go with one while you have a go with the other. We also started off by making a big fuss about who could make the most noise when brushing and this got him excited about trying to beat us. Make it fun - if it's a game then they'll usually want to play. Debbocar
  • Go for gimmicky toothbrushes, cartoon characters, suckers on the bottom etc. If your child's old enough, get them involved in choosing them. LarryVeestAdamAntSpawnChorus
  • We find letting our toddler choose which song we sing while brushing is a good ploy. Adding in funny words and singing in a funny voice also helps. Basically you just have to humiliate yourself for a good two minutes. Biza

Happy brushing.


All facts checked by the British Dental Health Foundation. If you need to speak to a dental health expert, call the BDHF helpline on 0845 0631188.

Image: Shutterstock

Last updated: 18 minutes ago