A child’s first teeth are just as important as their permanent teeth. Dental decay in a ‘baby tooth’ has just as much potential to hospitalise a child with acute infection or facial swelling as does decay or infection in a permanent tooth. A child’s first teeth are essential for a child to speak and chew as well as help to maintain space for the permanent teeth to erupt. The premature loss of a baby tooth may have a dramatic result on the final position of the erupting permanent teeth. Many primary teeth should remain until the age of 10 or 11 years. The early loss of one of these teeth will create severe crowding resulting in extensive and expensive orthodontics.


FLOSSING between your child’s primary teeth is one of the best preventive measures to avoid dental decay. Tooth brushing should be a fun experience! Making it part of the normal evening routine will be beneficial in the long run. A child will learn that the last thing to happen before bedtime is to brush their teeth. Parental modelling is important as the toddler will see and learn that mum and dad brush and floss as well.


• A child’s first dental visit should occur prior to their first birthday for an assessment of cavity risk and for advice on dental hygiene.• Children less than two require gentle brushing with a soft child size brush without toothpaste.

• At two, start to use a small smear of low fluoride toothpaste (Colgate Junior or Macleans ‘Milk Teeth’ or similar).

• Ingesting excessive amounts of fluoride may cause discolouration of developing permanent teeth.              

• Brush pre-schoolers’ teeth for them using a smear of low fluoride toothpaste. They are not in a position to effectively brush their teeth until approximately 8 to 10 years of age.

• Flossing twice daily should occur as soon as adjacent teeth contact each other. Tooth brushing alone is not enough.


As soon as teeth erupt into the mouth the risk of decay may occur, even before the age of one! There are three groups of children at risk:

1. Baby bottle decay: Prolonged use of a night-time bottle (or sippy cup) containing anything other than water will place a child at risk.

2. Sweetened dummy caries: Dummies dipped in sweet substances to be used as pacifiers.

3. Nursing decay: Particularly prevalent in children who breast feed well beyond twelve months of age, or in older toddlers who sleep with their mothers, nursing frequently through the night.

The enamel on baby teeth is softer and thinner than on adult teeth, making them decay easily and quickly. Should you have any concerns regarding your child’s teeth please contact your dentist immediately.

Dr Ian Sweeney is a dental surgeon at
Northside Dental & Implant Centre, Turramurra.