Expert Articles

Oral Health Habits for Babies and Toddlers: Building the Foundation for a Lifetime of Healthy Smiles

Author: Dr. Chiu Chi Yin Eugene
Dental Surgeon

Ensuring the oral health of our children from a young age is essential in providing them with a strong foundation for a lifetime of healthy smiles. In this article, we will provide vital oral health habits practical tips based on reputable dental journals, both from Western and Asian contexts.

  1. The Importance of Establishing an Early Dental Checkup and Managing Early Childhood Caries

It’s important to take your child to the dentist regularly, even if they only have a few teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children seeing a dentist by their first birthday. Regular dental check-ups can help prevent problems before they start and can also help your child feel comfortable with the dentist. During the visit, the dentist will make simple checkup for your child’s teeth and gums for any signs of decay or other problems. They can also provide valuable advice on how to care for your child’s teeth and gums, especially on how to prevent Early childhood caries (ECC) [1].

Early childhood caries (ECC) is a prevalent dental issue affecting young children worldwide. In Hong Kong, for example, the prevalence of dental caries among preschoolers was found to be 55% [5]. Parents should be aware of the common risk factors, including frequent consumption of sugary beverages, poor oral hygiene, and inadequate fluoride exposure [5]. To minimize these risks, encourage your child to drink water, practice regular tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste, and ensure they receive appropriate fluoride treatments from their dentist.

  1. Infant Oral Care and the Role of Fluoride Toothpaste

Introducing tooth brushing to your baby as soon as their first tooth erupts is crucial for lifelong oral health. However, we have to be careful on the amount of Fluoride in toothpaste to be used for our children. A systematic review found that fluoride toothpaste is effective and safe for children younger than six years old only with the appropriate amount of fluoride determined by the child’s age and risk of developing caries [2]. Use a rice grain-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for children under three years old, and a pea-sized amount for those aged three to six [2]. 

Gently brush your child’s teeth twice a day, focusing on all surfaces, and supervise them until they can do it independently. Remember always use a children toothpaste instead of adult toothpaste for your child to avoid excessive ingestion of fluoride which can cause fluorosis in our children’s teeth. Always consult your dentist on the type of toothpaste suitable for your children is essential to avoid causing any harm.

  1. Parental Knowledge Can Make a Big Difference in Your Families’ Oral Health

Parents play a pivotal role in their children’s oral health, as their knowledge and self-efficacy can impact the oral health habits they instill in their children. Mothers can alter their child’s excessive sugar intake, inadequate and irregular brushing, and the habit of letting the child fall asleep with a bottle containing sweet liquids. Nonetheless, a lack of understanding regarding ECC risk factors and the proper care for emerging teeth in very young children might hinder caregivers from addressing the oral health needs of young children.

One study found that increased oral health-related knowledge in parents will associate with better oral health outcomes in their children [4]. By educating yourself about proper oral health practices and instilling confidence in your ability to care for your child’s oral health, you can contribute to better oral health outcomes for your child.

  1. Diet and Choice of Food Matters

A healthy diet is also essential for maintaining good oral health for your child. Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products will not only contribute to your child’s overall health but also promote strong teeth and gums [3]. Further, as your child transitions to solid foods, try to avoid sticky and sugary snacks that can cling to their teeth, like biscuits, candies, cookies, and fruit gummies. Instead, opt for tooth-friendly snacks such as cheese, yogurt, fresh fruits and raw vegetables; and most importantly drink water after snacks and meals to reduce the amount of sugary products leftover in the oral cavity.

  1. Sleeping with a Bottle of Milk is a Nightmare to Every Children’s Teeth

Babies who fall asleep with a bottle of milk or juice in their mouth are at risk for baby bottle tooth decay. This condition can cause severe decay and cavities in your child’s teeth. To prevent baby bottle tooth decay, don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle. If your child needs a bottle to fall asleep, fill it with water instead of milk or juice. You should also try to wean your child off the bottle by the time they are one year old.

Further, parents can also look out for signs of tooth decay. Even with good oral hygiene habits, your child can still develop tooth decay. It’s important to look out for signs of tooth decay, such as white or brown spots on the teeth, bad breath, or tooth sensitivity. If you notice any of these signs, take your child to the dentist right away. The dentist can provide treatment to prevent the decay from getting worse and can also provide advice on how to prevent future decay.

Nurturing a lifetime of healthy smiles for your child starts with paying attention to their oral health from an early age. By building a robust foundation through establishing a dental home with your dentist, practicing proper oral hygiene, maintaining a balanced diet, and making tooth brushing a positive experience, you are actively investing in your child’s dental well-being. By being proactive and consistent, you can help your child develop good oral health habits that will benefit them throughout their lives. Prevention and education are the keys to ensuring a bright and healthy smile for your little one.


  • Duncan K, Thomas M, Reddy J. Establishing a dental home: The key to early oral health. J Am Dent Assoc. 2021;152(5):347-353.
  • Wright JT, Hanson N, Ristic H, Whall CW, Estrich CG, Zentz RR. Fluoride toothpaste efficacy and safety in children younger than 6 years: A systematic review. J Am Dent Assoc. 2014;145(2):182-189.
  • Seow WK. Early childhood caries. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2018;65(5):941-954.
  • Finlayson TL, Siefert K, Ismail AI, Delva J, Sohn W. Reliability and validity of brief measures of oral health-related knowledge, fatalism, and self-efficacy in mothers of African American children. Pediatr Dent. 2005;27(5):422-428.
  • Chen KJ, Gao SS, Duangthip D, Lo ECM, Chu CH. Early childhood caries and oral health care of Hong Kong preschool children. Clin Cosmet Investig Dent. 2019;11:27-35.
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Oral Health Habits for Babies and Toddlers: Building the Foundation for a Lifetime of Healthy Smiles