Teeth care babies and toddlers

Teeth in babies and toddlers

The development of your baby’s teeth begins before he is even born. At birth he has a full set of 20 baby teeth (also known as primary teeth or milk teeth) hidden away in his gums.

The first teeth to appear in your baby’s mouth will most likely be the two bottom front teeth. They tend to make their appearance somewhere between 6 and 8 months old. These teeth are then followed by the 2 upper front teeth. The remainder of your baby’s teeth will then appear, usually in pairs, on each side of the jaw, until your child is about 2 ½ years old. By this age, all 20 baby teeth will most likely have appeared.

  • Even though your baby will eventually lose all his milk teeth, they are just as important as the permanent teeth that follow. Not only do the milk teeth hold a space for the adult teeth, but they are also needed for speech, chewing and biting food.
  • You need to teach your child to eat a healthy diet for the sake of his teeth and gums.
  • Your child’s routine should include brushing his teeth twice a day, every day after the first tooth erupts.
  • In areas where flouride is not added to the water or if you use bore or tank water, you may want to use a smear of adult toothpaste to clean babies teeth from the time the first tooth appears. Encourage your child to spit the toothpaste out after brushing and not rinse the mouth. 
  • For areas with fluoridated water (and where your child is drinking tap water, not filtered or bottled), gently clean the teeth with a small soft toothbrush and a tiny smear of the low-fluoride toothpaste specially formulated for small children.
  • After your child turns 4 years old, you can begin to teach him how to brush his teeth, though it will be many years before you can hand the toothbrush over permanently.
  • Your pre-schooler can receive free dental care at a school dental clinic. Ring your local school to find where the nearest clinic is.


Don’t worry if your child teethes early or late – there’s nothing you can do to hurry a tooth! Every tooth is on its own timeline and will eventually make its way through the gum. It follows too that a child got his baby teeth late will also lose them late.


Children in New Zealand are entitled to free basic oral health services from birth to 17 years of age (until their 18th birthday).

It’s important to enrol your child as early as possible into the service, so that you can arrange the first check-up.

Your child’s first visit will usually be between their 1st and 2nd birthdays. Dental staff will let you know the time of your appointment once you enrol.


Water fluoridation

Water fluoridation is the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply with the intention of reducing tooth decay in the general population.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health strongly supports water fluoridation as a safe, effective and affordable way to aid in the prevention and reduction of tooth decay. Fluoride is added to many community water supplies and levels are carefully controlled. The Ministry concludes that from research carried out in the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey, people living in fluoridated areas have, on average, less current or previous tooth decay than those in un-fluoridated areas.

However, water flouridation has met with opposition from a growing number of community groups and health professionals. The blanket approach of water fluoridation in municipal water supplies is being challenged on the basis that it is not required for the prevention of tooth decay and may be doing more harm than good. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where local government still choose to fluoridate public water supplies. The majority of European countries do not fluoridate their water supplies and yet their tooth decay rates have been in decline since the introduction of fluoride toothpaste in the 1970s, thereby concurring with studies that suggest that the use of water fluoridation may be unnecessary where fluoride toothpaste is widely used. Water fluoridation is being increasingly challenged around the world with regards to its efficacy, the safety of its consumption and the lack of personal choice or consent where water fluoridation occurs.

Fluoride Free NZ is an organisation that was established in 2003 to end water fluoridation in New Zealand, instead focusing on promoting dental hygiene, diet and regular visits to a dental professional. For more information, visit their website, Fluoride Free NZ.


This article was written by Ella Walsh for Kidspot. Sources include Raising Children Network

Last revised: Monday, 1 August 2016

This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.

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