Caring for your child's teeth – 1 to 2 years

Your child will have most of their baby teeth by the time they are 2. Find out how you can look after them.

By this age, children are more independent and often will want to brush their own teeth. By all means, let them have a go, but it is important to then ensure that all surfaces are thoroughly cleaned by brushing them yourself as well. Most toddlers and young children can’t yet manoeuvre their toothbrush to reach all surfaces of their teeth. 

5 steps to protect your child's smile

Healthy teeth = a healthy smile.

Follow these 5 steps to protect your child's smile:

  1. Brush teeth twice a day.
  2. Use fluoride toothpaste.
  3. Have regular dental check-ups.
  4. Lift the lip every month to check for signs of tooth decay (holes).
  5. Choose healthy foods and drinks.

Brush teeth twice a day

Most of your child's first teeth will come through by about 2 years of age. These 'baby' teeth will help your child to eat and speak well. Healthy baby teeth usually mean healthy adult teeth too, so it's important that you look after your child's first teeth.

Look after your child's first teeth by brushing them twice a day – after breakfast and before bed. You may find it easier to stand behind your child and gently tilt their head back as you brush. Use a small toothbrush with soft bristles and a smear of regular-strength fluoride toothpaste.

Brush your child's teeth for 2 minutes:

  • all around the inside surfaces, where the teeth meet the gums, and also the top chewing surfaces
  • on the front of the teeth, brushing in tiny circles all around the outside surfaces, close to the gums

Teach your child to spit out the left-over toothpaste after brushing. Don't rinse with water, because a small amount of fluoride toothpaste left around the teeth will help to protect them.

Regular dental check-ups

Your child is eligible for free check-ups from an oral health service. It's important to enrol your child with the service as early as possible, so that you can arrange the first check-up. Regular check-ups of your child's teeth increase the chances of finding and treating any tooth decay (holes) early.

To enrol with a service or to make an appointment, phone 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583). Your dental therapist will tell you how often your child should have a check-up.

If your child accidentally bumps their teeth, take them to a dental therapist in the Community Oral Health Service or a dentist, even if the teeth still look all right.

Lift the lip

Gently lift your child's top lip once a month to check inside their mouth. It's a quick and easy way to see if tooth decay is present. Learn more about tooth decay.

Choose healthy snacks

Healthy eating = healthy teeth. To protect your child's teeth, give them low-sugar snacks between meals such as fruit, fresh vegetables, yoghurt and other dairy foods. Foods that are high in sugar can damage your child's teeth and cause tooth decay.

Drink water or milk

The best drinks for your child's teeth are water and milk. Do not give your child drinks that have natural or added sugar, such as fruit juice, cordial, fizzy drinks, flavoured milks and chocolate drinks. These can cause tooth decay. 

You should put only water or milk in your child's bottle.


Content courtesy of KidsHealth NZ which has been created by a partnership between the Paediatric Society of New Zealand (PSNZ) and the Starship Foundation, supported and funded by the Ministry of Health.

Credits: KidsHealth NZ. Reviewed By: Health Navigator Editorial Team Last reviewed: 10 Dec 2020