Looking after children's teeth

Healthy baby teeth are needed for chewing and proper speech development.

Key points about caring for your child's teeth

  1. Baby teeth need to be looked after and valued.
  2. Brush your child's teeth twice a day with regular-strength fluoride toothpaste.
  3. Ensure your child has a healthy diet that is low in sugar.
  4. Make sure your child has regular dental check-ups from an early age.
  5. Dental care for children is free until they turn 18.

Why baby teeth are important

Baby teeth need to be looked after and valued. Healthy baby teeth are needed for chewing and proper speech development.

Your child's baby teeth save the space for adult teeth and are important for the proper growth of your child's face and jaw. 

(Ministry of Health, 2016)

5 steps to protect your child's smile

Healthy teeth = a healthy smile. Your child's teeth are at risk of tooth decay (holes) as soon as their teeth appear – this is usually at around 6 months. As soon as the first baby tooth comes through you need to start cleaning it.

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

  1. Brush teeth twice a day.
  2. Have regular dental check-ups.
  3. Lift the lip every month to check for signs of tooth decay (holes).
  4. Choose healthy snacks.
  5. Drink water or milk.

Your Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse will regularly check your child's teeth and talk to you about how to keep them healthy. Click on a link below for more advice on caring for your child's teeth:

Teeth-friendly foods

Nutrition plays a key role in keeping teeth healthy throughout life.

Good care of teeth and a healthy balanced diet, with foods containing calcium (milk products and vegetables), fluoride (fluoridated water, seafood) and phosphate (leafy vegetables, fruit, meat and poultry), are essential to prevent tooth decay (holes). 

The following tips may also help to reduce the risk of tooth decay:

  • Limit sugar in your child's diet – a diet high in sugar lets the bacteria and acids that create tooth decay thrive in your child’s mouth. 
  • Avoid sticky, sugary snacks between meals – these 'glue' the sugar to teeth, increasing the risk of decay.
  • Drink water and sugar-free drinks.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks – even diet soft drinks are acidic and can erode teeth.

Dental care for children is free

Your child is entitled to free oral healthcare until they turn 18. To enrol them with your local Community Oral Health Service, call 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583).

Enrol your child with your local Community Oral Health Service at birth or as soon as possible after that. Your midwife or nurse will be able to help you to enrol your child. The service is free and supports you and your whānau to care for your child's teeth.

Oral health with Dr Rabbit

Share the adventures of Dr. Rabbit and Dr. Brushwell with children in this fun video. Meet ordinary characters who turn into Super Dentists and Tooth Defenders when the slimy Placulus and his band of plaque monsters come along. Together, the team undertakes a mission to protect Tooth City from the sugary villain and his sticky schemes!

(Colgate-Palmolive Company, US, 2014)

More videos

The legend of Colgate's Dr Rabbit and the Tooth Kingdom (Source: Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures – Colgate-Palmolive Company, USA, 2014)


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: 04 Dec 2020