Why it is important

It is very important to keep your child's teeth and mouth healthy. Looking after your children's oral health from an early age will minimise their risk of developing conditions such as tooth decay and erosion. It will also encourage the healthy development of their permanent adult teeth.  

Tooth decay
Tooth decay occurs when the hard tissue that surrounds the teeth (enamel) starts to break down, leaving a cavity (hole) in the tooth. If tooth decay is not treated, bacteria can enter the tooth through the cavity. This can cause severe pain and the bacteria can infect the tissue inside the tooth and cause a dental abscess (a painful collection of pus inside the tooth).

Bacteria that live on the teeth cause tooth decay. When the bacteria combine with small food particles and saliva, they form a sticky coating called plaque. Plaque breaks down sugars from the food that you eat into acids, which weakens the surface of the teeth and starts to erode (wear away) the enamel.

If your child's diet is high in sugar, or they do not brush their teeth correctly, the damaging acids will stay in contact with their teeth for longer, increasing the risk of tooth decay.

See the Health A-Z topic on Tooth decay for more information about this condition.

Tooth erosion
Tooth erosion occurs when the enamel (hard tissue) that covers the teeth starts to wear away. Unlike tooth decay, tooth erosion is not caused by bacteria. It is usually the result of acids from drinks such as:
  • fruit juice
  • squash
  • fizzy drinks

If the tooth enamel is worn away, it can cause the teeth to become sensitive and painful. Most cases of tooth erosion will not require treatment, even though the enamel will not grow back. However, severe tooth erosion may require a filling (see Dental care - treatment).

Permanent teeth
When your child's permanent adult teeth start to come through, it helps if they have a healthy mouth to grow into. Your child's adult teeth may not be healthy if they emerge into a mouth that contains infected teeth and gums.

Children whose teeth fall out early as a result of tooth decay may not develop straight adult teeth. If this is the case, your child may need to wear a dental brace so that their adult teeth can be adjusted into the correct position.

Sometimes, people with healthy teeth also need to wear a brace. A brace helps straighten the teeth in order to:
  • improve their appearance
  • make them easier to clean