Babies and toddlers (0-3 years)

When should you start brushing your child's teeth? When should your child have their first dental check? How can tooth decay in children be prevented? Read these simple tips for good oral health for babies and toddlers 0–3 years old.

Top 10 oral health tips for babies and toddlers

1. Breastfeeding is best for babies

  • Your baby’s main food in the first 6 months of life is breastmilk or infant formula.
  • Once your baby has finished feeding remove the baby from the breast or bottle.
  • For support and advice about breastfeeding speak with your maternal and child health nurse.

2. Don’t put baby to sleep with a bottle

  • When babies fall asleep with a bottle some milk stays in the mouth and on the teeth. This can cause tooth decay.
  • Once your baby has finished feeding remove the baby from the breast or bottle.
  • If your child has a night time feed remember to:
    • Always take them out of their cot to feed them.
    • Always hold them when feeding them with a bottle.
  • Avoid leaving a baby to feed from a bottle without supervision.
  • They may fall asleep with the bottle still in their mouth, increasing the risk of choking,
    ear infection and tooth decay.

3. From 6 months of age children can start to drink from a cup

  • Between 6 and 12 months your baby can move from drinking from a bottle to a cup.
  • Toddlers (1–3 years olds) should only drink from a cup.
  • Remember that holding and drinking from a cup is a new skill that your baby needs to learn.

4. Water is the best drink for toddlers

  • Water should be the main drink and toddlers should drink tap water throughout the day. In addition to this, plain cow’s milk is a healthy drink choice for children over 12 months.
  • For babies under 12 months, tap water should be boiled and cooled before drinking.
  • Most of Victoria’s tap water supply has fluoride in it. Fluoride protects teeth from decay.
  • Remember that shop bought bottled water usually does not have fluoride in it.

5. Plain milk is a healthy drink choice

  • Babies under 12 months should be drinking breastmilk or infant formula.
  • Milk is a good source of calcium which makes teeth strong and healthy.
  • Children over 12 months can drink plain full fat cow’s milk.
  • After 2 years of age, low fat milk is suitable.
  • Remember that flavoured milks can have added sugar in them and this can cause tooth decay.

6. Babies and toddlers don't need fruit juice or sweet drinks

  • Fruit juice and sweet drinks can cause tooth decay.
  • Fruit juice and fruit drinks are not necessary or recommended for children under 12 months.
  • Fruit juice with ‘no added sugar’ contains natural sugar which can also cause tooth decay.
  • Sweet drinks include: soft drinks, fruit juice, sports drinks, cordials, tea drinks, fruit drinks and energy drinks.
  • Diet soft drinks contain acids which can also damage teeth.

7. Healthy meals and snacks are important for healthy teeth

  • Children can begin to eat solid foods from around 6 months of age.
  • Babies do not have a preference for sweetness and sweet foods and drinks. This is something that they get used to when they have sweet foods and drinks regularly.
  • From 12 months of age children should be enjoying a wide variety of healthy foods similar to the rest of the family.
  • Children learn about eating food from watching their parents and other family members.
  • Many common foods and snacks have sugar in them. Eating foods with high levels of sugar causes tooth decay.

8. Start cleaning baby’s teeth when they appear (6 months)

  • Cleaning and brushing teeth removes plaque (the build-up on teeth) that causes tooth decay.
  • You can start cleaning your baby’s teeth by wiping with a soft cloth or brushing with a small soft toothbrush and water.
  • At 18 months start using a pea sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth. Encourage your child to spit out toothpaste after brushing, but not rinse.
  • Clean all surfaces of the teeth and gums twice a day (after breakfast and before bed).
  • Children will need an adult to help them brush their teeth until about 7 or 8 years of age.

How to clean your child's teeth guide>>

9. Children should have an oral health assessment by 2 years of age

  • The first oral health assessment can be provided by a Dentist or other Oral Health Professional, Maternal and Child Health Nurse or Doctor.
  • Having regular check-ups can help to spot problems early. Early stages of tooth decay can be treated.
  • Find out more about free or low-cost public dental services available to children.

Who is eligible? >>
Find your nearest community dental clinic >>

10. Oral health is important for the whole family

  • Babies are not born with the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Parents and carers can pass on this bacteria to babies. To help prevent this, families can do these things:
    • everyone brushes their teeth twice a day with their own toothbrush
    • everyone (including pregnant women) has a regular dental check-up and any tooth decay treated.
    • try to avoid putting anything in your baby’s mouth if it has been in your mouth (for example sharing spoons and ‘cleaning’ dummies by putting them in your mouth).

These tips are based on the Infant Feeding Guidelines (2012), the Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) and the Evidence-based oral health promotion resource (2011).

DHSV is a content partner with the Better Health Channel and Raising Children Network. More information about oral health can be found at these websites. Use the search terms ‘teeth’ or ‘dental’.