Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide
A Child

A Child's Smile is Precious - tips for healthy teeth

Healthy teeth and gums are important for your child’s health, nutrition, growth, development, speech and self-esteem. In South Australia, by the time children reach five, one in three children have had one or more decayed, missing or filled teeth. Every year 800 of these children are treated in hospital under anaesthesia for severe tooth decay. Fortunately, tooth decay is preventable and your child can have healthy teeth and gums.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay can spread very quickly in baby teeth. Early signs are dull white spots which become larger and turn yellow, brown or black. Other signs and symptoms include tooth sensitivity, irritability, pain, infection, or facial swelling. Problems with eating, sleeping and behaviour may also be signs of tooth decay.

Tips for Healthy Teeth


Start cleaning teeth, gums and tongue as soon as your baby's first tooth arrives. Brush every tooth, once every day. Get a small, soft toothbrush just for your baby. Toothpaste is not necessary until your child is two. Children from two to six should brush with a low-fluoride toothpaste such as ‘Milk teeth’, My First toothpaste’ or Children’s toothpaste.’ Clean your child’s teeth once a day until they are about eight , making sure you can see all the teeth while cleaning them. Keep your own mouth clean and healthy to help prevent passing decay causing bacteria to your child.


Fresh foods such as breads and cereals, vegetables, fruit, dairy foods and meat, fish, eggs and legumes are best for your child's teeth. A variety of food should be offered to children at meal and snack times. Dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt and cheese, are high in calcium and are important in building strong teeth and bones. Avoid meals and snacks that are sweet, sticky or acidic.


Water is the best drink. Tap water in South Australia contains fluoride which helps strengthen teeth. Milk is an important source of calcium for children, who need about 600ml of milk from 12 months of age. (If this is cow’s milk use full cream). Fruit juices, cordials, soft drinks, diet drinks, sports drinks and vitamin syrups contain sugars and/or acids that can contribute to tooth decay.

Breasts, bottles and cups

Children who are frequently comforted with a breast, or a bottle of any drink other than water, have an increased risk of tooth decay. It is important to remove the breast or bottle immediately after feeding your baby. Don’t let the baby fall asleep with the breast or bottle in their mouth. If your child needs settling or comforting, cuddle and rock them or give them a favourite toy.

For toddles, stay with them while they sit and have their drinks and remove the bottle or cup when they are finished. Babies should be weaned to a cup at about 12 months. A cup with a lid and a straw minimises mess and helps keep the drink away from the baby’s teeth.

Back to Paediatric Dental Unit

last modified: 30 Mar 2009