Caring for your child's first teeth

Your child’s first teeth (baby teeth) will help them to eat and speak well. Looking after their baby teeth helps make sure their adult teeth come through healthy and strong.

Dental care is free

You should enrol your pēpi (baby) 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. The service is free, and supports you and your whānau to care for your child’s teeth.

Video: Your child — healthy teeth

Brush twice a day

As soon as your baby’s teeth start to show, start brushing twice a day. One brushing should be at night before your pēpi (baby) goes to bed. Use a small, soft brush and a half-pea sized amount of family fluoride toothpaste. For tamariki (children) 6 years old and over, use a pea-sized amount.

Once your pēpi is over 1 year old, brush their teeth for 2 minutes. Brush all around the inside surfaces, where the teeth meet the gums, and also the top chewing surfaces. Brush on the front of their teeth, all around the outside surfaces, and close to the gums.

Teach your child to spit out the leftover toothpaste after brushing. Do not rinse with water. A small amount of fluoride toothpaste left around the teeth will help to protect them.

You may find it easier to stand behind them and tilt their head back as you brush or lie their head on your lap.

As they get older it is a good idea to let them try using their toothbrush after you have cleaned their teeth for them. Tamariki need help to clean their teeth until they are around 8 or 9 years old.

More tips on brushing is available on the New Zealand Dental Association website.

Infants and toddlers — New Zealand Dental Association (external link)

Use fluoride toothpaste

Fluoride makes teeth stronger and reduces tooth decay (holes).

The recommendation is to use:

  • a half-pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for children up to and including 5 years old

  • a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for children 6 years old and over.

We recommend you use toothpastes that have at least 1,000 parts per million (PPM) of fluoride, twice a day. To check your toothpaste before you buy, look for packaging labels that says it contains at least:

  • 0.221% sodium fluoride, or

  • 0.76% sodium monofluorophosphate.

Get free oral health care

Your pēpi (baby) is eligible for free checkups from an oral health service. It is important to enrol them with the service as early as possible, so you can arrange the first checkup. To enrol with a service or to make an appointment phone them on 0800 825 583 (0800 TALK TEETH ).

Regular checkups increase the chances of finding and treating any tooth decay early. Your dental or oral health therapist will tell you how often your tamariki should have a checkup.

Lift the lip every month

Lift your child’s top lip once a month to check inside their mouth. It is a quick and easy way to see if tooth decay (holes) is present.

The New Zealand Dental Association has information on how to lift the lip, tooth decay, and what to look for.

Common dental problems — New Zealand Dental Association (external link)

If you are worried about your baby’s teeth:

  • talk with your Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse

  • contact your healthcare provider

  • call your community oral health service on 0800 825 583 (0800 TALK TEETH ).

Choose healthy foods and drinks

For drinks milk and water are best. Only these should be in babies bottles or sipper cups.

Do not put your pēpi (baby) to bed with a bottle. Going to sleep with a bottle of milk, a warm chocolate drink, or juice will start to cause tooth decay. If they want to suck on something to settle themselves, it is better to use a dummy with no sweetener.

Around 6 months is a good time to prepare your pēpi for drinking from a cup. Start with water in a sipper cup — you will find it much easier to wean from the breast or bottle later.

Introducing solids

Your baby may be ready to start eating solid food at around six months of age. To protect your baby’s teeth, choose healthy foods and drinks. Sweet drinks, foods, and fruit juices can cause tooth decay. They can also cause your baby to develop a taste for sweet foods.

As they get older, to protect their teeth, give them sugar free snacks. This includes fruit and fresh vegetables.

Health teeth = healthy living

Food and drinks for healthy teeth — Ministry of Health (external link)

Recipes — Healthy Kids  (external link)