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Nutrition and good oral health

Good nutrition and a healthy start help to lay the groundwork for good oral health throughout childhood and into adulthood, and this should happen as early as possible from birth.  As children grow and become more independent, they make more of their own food choices. Often these food choices are based on their likes and dislikes, previous experience, time and convenience, and parental and peer influence.

Practitioners can reinforce to parents and carers the importance of instilling good nutritional choices, teach children about nutrition and provide healthy options which will maintain their oral health and keep them healthy.

Key messages for early years practitioners

Both health practitioners and others (for example, nurseries and schools) have a responsibility of relaying to parents and carers the following key messages for children’s oral health:

  • Make sure children are registered with dental services soon after they are born or at least as soon as the first tooth appears. From then on, take their child to the dental practice every six months (or as advised by the dental team) for clinical care and advice on how to protect children’s teeth.
  • Brush teeth and gums twice a day, and especially at bedtime, using at least 1000ppm fluoride toothpaste. (Children over two use a pea-sized amount.) Research evidence and dental experts agree that establishing this routine at an early age can prevent tooth decay in childhood and later life.
  • Supervise up to the age of seven and encourage children not to swallow toothpaste while brushing, and to spit, not rinse, after brushing – to give the fluoride more time to protect teeth.
  • Toothbrushes should be replaced every three months, or sooner if the bristles splay.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and restrict foods and drinks containing sugar to meal times only.
  • Drinks between meals should be limited to plain milk and tap water as these are safest for teeth.
  • Register with a dentist and visit at least twice a year (or as advised by your dental team) for clinical care and advice on how to protect children’s teeth.  For further information,please see A guide to oral health and nutrition for professionals