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Children's Health 2019

Tips for healthy teeth for life

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Ms Etain Kett, MPRII

Public Affairs & Communications Manager

Tooth decay is the single most common chronic disease of childhood. It is also associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Therefore, preventive measures and maintaining oral health are important for improving overall health.

Healthy baby teeth are important, especially for eating, talking and smiling and will pave the way for healthy adult teeth. By helping children take good care of their teeth, you are starting habits that will last them all their lives.

Tooth tips for 0-2 years

When a baby is born, the first set of teeth is already there, under the gums. Use a clean damp cloth to clean baby’s gums after a feed, and then a soft toothbrush with water once the first tooth appears. Don’t use toothpaste unless advised by your dentist.

Don’t let baby sleep with a bottle in its mouth, and don’t put sweet drinks, juice, tea or fruit drinks in baby’s bottle. Instead, encourage drinking from a free-flowing sippy cup from six months. We also advise against dipping soothers in honey, jam or anything sweet (only use an orthodontic soother, and wean the baby off it as soon as possible, as it can affect the way a baby’s teeth grow).

Be aware that the bacteria that cause tooth decay can be transferred from a parent/carer to an infant through sharing of spoons and cups, or licking soothers.


Symptoms may include disturbed sleep, feeding irritability and swollen, tender gums.

The most common side-effect is drooling or dribbling. Try giving baby something to chew on, such as a cooled teething ring. Milk or cooled boiled water may also help. If necessary, ask your doctor or public health nurse to recommend a mild, sugar-free pain reliever.

Avoid ointments that numb the gum unless your dentist recommends them.

Tooth tips for 2-7 years

Use a small, pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste (at least 1000ppm). Children under the age of seven years should be supervised by an adult when brushing their teeth and should be encouraged to spit out toothpaste and not rinse after brushing.

Diet tips for babies and children

Babies are not born with a sweet tooth and will enjoy home-made baby foods without sugar. If you’re buying baby foods, look out for the ones without sugar. Choose healthy snacks and drinks between meals. Milk and water are the most tooth-friendly drinks. Sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes and sugary drinks should only be taken once or twice a week – at most – and limited to mealtimes. Limit fruit juice or fruit smoothies to a small glass, once a day, with a meal and always choose unsweetened.

In the Dental Health Foundation, we believe that healthy teeth are for life!

We all want to have healthy teeth, fresh breath and nice smiles as adults and this starts with taking care of children’s teeth from a young age.

More information

The Dental Health Foundation (DHF) has been committed to Oral Health Promotion since 1977. DHF provides evidence based best practice resources to increase awareness among the public by empowering them to make healthier oral and general health lifestyle choices. Please see dentalhealth.ie for lots of useful resources and publications.

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