Looking after your teeth

Looking after the health of your mouth and teeth is important whatever your age.

Tooth decay causes difficulties eating, smiling and sleeping, and sometimes results in teeth being removed under general anaesthetic

A child in England has a rotten tooth removed in hospital every 10 minutes. That’s almost 40,000 a year and tooth decay is the most common reason for hospital admissions in 5 to 9 year olds.

Bad toothache can mean missing school or work and stop you enjoying social events with family and friends.

  • Cut down on foods and drinks high in sugar. To help you achieve this the Change4Life website reveals the sugar, salt, saturated fat and calories in everyday foods and drinks or look at the labelling on the pack and aim for mostly ‘greens’ and ‘ambers.’
  • Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste - one of these times should be before bed.
  • Brushing should be for 2 minutes each time.
  • Spit out after brushing but don’t rinse so that the toothpaste can keep working.
  • Brush using small circular movements concentrating on one area at a time.   You need to brush all of the surfaces, including where the tooth and gum meet.  Don’t avoid brushing if the gum bleeds.  It will improve if the area is brushed effectively every day. 

  • Visit a dentist and go as often as they advise - usually once or twice a year unless you have a problem with your teeth. To find your local dentist please use the NHS Find a dentist

  • Take children to the dentist as soon as their first tooth appears (usually before their first birthday) and go as often as their dentist recommends. It's free for children up to 18 to see an NHS dentist and it's also free for pregnant women up until their child is one.
  • Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for babies so breastfeed if you can.
  • Plain milk is safe for teeth if drunk quickly.  However, leaving a child with a bottle of milk for long periods, especially when asleep, should be avoided as this could lead to tooth decay.  Do not give drinks in bottles at night once your baby is weaned. 
  • If a child is left with a bottle or comforter, it should only contain water. 
  • From six months of age infants should be introduced to drinking from a free-flow cup, and from age one year feeding from a bottle should be discouraged. 
  • Sugar should not be added to weaning foods or drinks.
  • Brushing should start as soon as the first tooth appears.
  • Children should be helped to brush their teeth or supervised up to the age of 7.
  • The easiest way to brush a baby's teeth is to sit them on your knee, with their head resting against your chest. With an older child, stand behind them and tilt their head backwards.
  • Not all children like having their teeth brushed, so you may have to keep trying. Make it into a game, or brush your own teeth at the same time and then help your child finish their own. 
  • Not all children like the taste of toothpaste; there are flavourless alternatives which work just as well. 
  • Use a smear of toothpaste (up to 3 years) or a pea sized amount (3-6 year olds).
  • Children up to 3 should use a toothpaste with at least 1,000ppm fluoride. Children over 3 should use a toothpaste with more than 1,350 ppm fluoride. After 7 years old an adult toothpaste can be used. The 0-19 team can provide advice on the level of fluoride you need to take. 
  • If your child is able to rinse and spit and would like to use mouthwash, use this at an alternative time to brushing 
  • Ask your dentist about fluoride varnish - all children over 3 years should have this applied to their teeth. If younger children are at particular risk of tooth decay the dentist may apply to their teeth.  

  • Sugar-free medicines should be used where possible (until 7 years of age).
  • Use a child's toothbrush – they have soft bristles and a small head.

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