Mum and daughter toothbrushing

Children and teenagers: looking after their teeth

As children become older, they have to take responsibility for their own actions, and choosing what they want to eat and drink is part of that. They are given a huge choice in shops, at school and even at friend’s houses.

Educating your child to understand the difference between a healthy drink or snack choice can make all the difference.

There's more information on diet in our healthy eating pages. See also the Change for Life Sugar Smart parent pack.


Children often think that they need sports drinks to either do sport or to look cool!

Sports drinks may seem like a healthy choice, but most are still high in sugar. Some sports drink contains between 56 and 76 grams of sugar. This is equal to about 14 to 19 teaspoons.

There is also a large amount of caffeine in energy drinks. A 250ml energy drink can contain a almost the same amount of caffeine to a double espresso. 

Water and milk are the best drinks for children. Water will hydrate them giving them enough energy to function normally. If your child does not like water, then try a small amount of no added or sugar free squash. 

Be aware of flavoured milk or milkshakes as these will contain high levels of sugar.


From the age of 7 children should have the manual dexterity to be able to brush their teeth effectively themselves, but they may still need a bit of encouragement and guidance from an adult. 

These simple steps will ensure your child’s teeth stay healthy:

  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks between meals and within one hour of bedtime
  • Brush for about two minutes with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Brush before bed and at one other time during the day. 
  • Wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing teeth
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste containing 1450ppm of fluoride (look for this on the ingredients of the packaging)
  • Use a pea size amount
  • Brush for 2 minutes
  • Use a small, medium textured brush or an electric toothbrush
  • Spit the toothpaste out but don’t rinse after brushing
  • Visit the dentist regularly


Mouthwash contains a lot less fluoride than toothpaste – usually about 225ppm.  

  • If you use mouthwash, use it during the day between meals. 
  • Try to avoid using it straight after brushing as you do not want to wash away the protective fluoride from the higher concentration of fluoride on your teeth from your toothpaste. 
  • Mouthwash can be used from age 8.

Free sugar

Older teenager brushing teeth

Eating too much sugar is bad for your teeth and can make you gain weight too, but we need to be especially careful of consuming too much free sugar. Free sugar is any sugar that’s not inside the cells of the food we eat, and this includes any that’s added to a food or drink.

Examples of foods that contain free sugars:

  • Soft drinks (a 330ml can of cola contains 35g of free sugar)
  • Fruit juices (150ml of fruit juice contains 12g of free sugar)
  • Honey
  • Syrup
  • Jam
  • Chocolate spread
  • Chocolate (a standard chocolate bar contains 25g of free sugar)
  • Biscuits
  • Pastries 
  • Cakes

Foods that contain natural sugars but no free sugars: 

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables 
  • Milk

When fruit is made into juice, the sugar is released from the cells and becomes free sugar, while the fibre in the fruit is lost. This makes it easier to consume a lot of sugar without meaning to. 

The government recommends free sugars make up no more than 5% of your daily calories. This means:

Age Maximum amount of free sugar per day Number of teaspoons
Children under the age of 4 None 0
Children aged 4 to 6 19g 5
Children aged 7 to 10 24g 6
Children aged over 11 and adults 30g 7

Try to keep sugary food and drinks to mealtimes, as it is not how much sugar, but how often sugar is consumed that damages teeth.

Healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, rice cakes, hummus, cheese and plain popcorn are a perfect option.

There’s more information on diet in our healthy eating pages. The NHS website shares more on sugar, including how to cut back, on their page Sugar: the facts

Finding a dentist

If you do not have an NHS dentist the following will allow you to find a local dentist by entering your post code: