Childrens’ Teeth and their diet. Breast milk provides the best source of nourishment for the early months of life. Mothers are encouraged and supported in breastfeeding and may choose to continue to breastfeed as the weaning diet becomes increasingly varied.

Children have high energy needs for growth and development. It is important that children are given energy rich foods that are nutritious such as cereals, breads, dairy foods, and meats, chicken and eggs. Foods from the first four shelves of the food pyramid should be used to replace foods from the very top shelf that are high in added sugars/fats such as chocolate, cakes and sweets.

Practical tips:

  • Do not add sugar to home prepared weaning foods
  • Limit baby foods sweetened with added sugars


  • Suitable fluids include water (boiled and cooled for infants under 1 year). Natural mineral waters are not suitable for infants.
  • Fruit juices should be unsweetened, well diluted (1 measure to 4 or 5 measures of water) and given at mealtimes from a cup. Baby juices and herbal drinks are not needed, but if given should be used sparingly, and only at mealtimes from a feeding cup.
  • Colas, squashes, fizzy drinks and diet drinks are unsuitable for infants.
  • Foods should never be added to the baby bottle.

Baby Bottle/Nursing Decay
Parents/carers of infants should be warned particularly about the dangers of putting fruit juices or sugar sweetened drinks into feeding bottles or reservoir feeders and giving these to the baby/toddler to hold, especially in bed. Such practices result in almost continuous bathing of the enamel with sugars and leads to severe and rapid tooth destruction, a condition described as baby bottle/nursing decay.

“Children should be fed and put to bed NOT, put to bed and fed”

  • Do make sure that your child does not sleep with a bottle in his or her mouth
  • Do avoid all sugar-containing liquids in nap or bedtime bottle
  • Do encourage drinking from a cup
  • Do discontinue bottle feeding by your child’s first birthday
  • Do avoid dipping a soother in sugar, honey or anything sweet before giving to your child.

This video gives tips on how to reduce our intake of sugar-sweetened drinks. And here is a Tooth Tips Chart for 0-2 year olds to help them develop good dental habits.

School children/adolescents
Changes in eating habits due to relative independence from family influences and the influence of peers can result in changes in health behaviours and diet, specifically in relation to sugar.

Overall, there has been a slight improvement in the dietary habits of school aged children in recent years: the 2006 Irish Health Behaviour of School Aged Children (HBSC) Study reports a slightly higher percentage of children consuming fruits and vegetables more than once daily and a slightly lower percentage consuming sweets and soft drinks daily or more often, compared with 2002. The HBSC study also reported evidence of a social class gradient, with children from the highest social classes (SC 1-2) more likely to have frequent fruit and vegetables consumption and less likely to have frequent soft drink consumption.

The slight improvements in children’s dietary habits are likely linked to similar changes in adult dietary habits revealed by the 2007 SLÁN. It can be conjectured that these slight changes in dietary habits stem from a greater population awareness of the health impacts of lifestyle behaviour, in light of the concern for rising obesity in Ireland. However, eating habits, specifically in relation to sugar, can be changed by peer influence as children gain relative independence from family influences. Overall, 39% of the children surveyed in the 2006 HBSC survey reported eating sweets and 26% drinking soft drinks daily or more frequently, with higher rates in the older age groups. The graphs below show the breakdown of daily sweets and soft drinks consumption by age group, gender and social class.

Practical tips:

  • Suggestions for between meal snacks are fruit, crisp raw vegetables, sandwiches, variety of breads, yoghurts, low fat cheese, plain popcorn and scones
  • Cereals are excellent energy providers, but avoid the sugar-coated types


  • Milk, water, and sugar free squashes are suitable
  • Diet drinks in moderation can be an alternative

Health implications of soft drinks

Rising consumption of soft drinks is causing concern according to recent research in the United States. Particular concern is highlighted about the long term effects of soft drinks displacing milk in the diet of teenage girls. If teenagers do not get enough dietary calcium in these vulnerable years they increase their risk of developing osteoporosis in later life.

Dental Health Implications

The frequent consumption of sugar containing fizzy drinks not only put teeth at risk to decay but can also cause erosion of the enamel. This is due to their acidic content (see Tooth Wear for more details).

Fruit juices are an important source of vitamins in the diet. However, they should be taken with meals for two reasons. The frequent consumption of these can lead to enamel erosion and although pure juices may not contain sucrose they are rich in fructose and can also be cariogenic.


Brushing Your Child’s Teeth
The most effective way to remove plaque from the teeth and prevent gum disease is by brushing regular brushing. A toothbrush with a small head and soft or medium bristles is recommended. Position the bristles of the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to the teeth and gums, placing the end of the bristles at the point where the tooth and gums meet. With light pressure, vibrate the brush back and forth with very short strokes, keeping the same angle and position at the margin of the teeth and gums. Concentrate on 2-3 teeth at a time and repeat the process until all the front and back surfaces of the teeth have been cleaned. Finally, brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth with a horizontal motion.

Parents are advised not to use toothpaste when brushing their children’s teeth until the age of two years. Prior to this parents can brush their children’s teeth with a toothbrush and tap water. Professional advice on the use of fluoride toothpaste should be sought where a child below two years of age is considered at high risk of developing dental decay. Children should be able to brush their own teeth when they are able to tie their own shoes, as this demonstrates sufficient manual dexterity. Parents should supervise children when brushing up to seven years of age and should ensure that only a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is used and that swallowing of the paste is avoided. After the age of 2, an adult fluoride toothpaste can be used as studies have shown adult toothpaste to be more effective at preventing decay then children’s toothpaste.

Here is a video on the correct way to brush your children’s teeth, a Brushing Chart to help you help your little ones keep a record of every time they brush their teeth and even The Story of the Tooth.

Thumb Sucking

Babies get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from sucking things – including their own thumbs. There is no real harm in letting them suck their thumbs. Most infants will stop of their own accord. You can expect children to have given up sucking by the age of 4 years.

Thumbsucking is only really a problem if children go on sucking their thumbs after this age. Some children suck their thumbs very hard. This can pull their teeth out of shape. Children who suck hard should be helped to give up. It you want to help a child to give up sucking, remember that sucking makes the child feel contented and secure. Encourage the child to do other things instead.

Children’s Teeth

A common question from parents is when can they expect their children’s teeth to come in? This is also called Tooth Eruption.  You can expect teeth to generally start appearing on the following schedule:

Upper Baby (Primary) Teeth

Central incisor 7.5 mths
Lateral incisor 8 mths
Canine 16-20 mths
First molar 12-16 mths
Second molar 21-30 mths


Central incisor 6.5 mths
Lateral incisor 7 mths
Canine 16-20 mths
First molar 12-16 mths
Second molar 21-30 mths

Eruption times of permanent teeth


Central incisor 7 – 8 yrs
Lateral incisor 8 – 9 yrs
Canine 11 – 12 yrs
First premolar 10 – 11 yrs
Second premolar 10 – 12 yrs
First molar 6 – 7 yrs
Second molar 12 – 13 yrs
Third molar 17 – 21 yrs


Central incisor 6 – 7 yrs
Lateral incisor 7 – 8 yrs
Canine 9 – 10
First premolar 10 – 12 yrs
Second premolar 11 – 12 yrs
First molar 6 – 7 yrs
Second molar 12 – 13 yrs
Third molar 17 – 21 yrs