Parents pass many pearls of wisdom throughout their lifetime but its mums who seem to take the lead on how we care for our teeth, according to a new poll.

More than two in three (68 per cent) of us say it’s our mum who taught us how to brush our teeth as a child while findings showed that we’re almost four times as likely to be a self-taught brusher (18 per cent) as being taught by our father (5 per cent).

Learning how to brush our teeth at school and then by a sibling completed the list1.

The survey also revealed less than half (45 per cent) of parents teach their children how to brush their teeth before the age of two, with one in four (23 per cent) showing them the dental ropes between two and five years old2.

girl-mum-brushing-teethThe importance of good oral health habits at an early age is illustrated by the level of childhood tooth decay in the United Kingdom. A recent report by the Health & Social Care Information Centre identified 12 per cent of three-year-olds suffer from visible tooth decay3, with more than one in four (27 per cent) five-year-olds suffering with the same problem4.

Further research has demonstrated that one in three 12-year-olds and less than half (46 per cent) of 15-year-olds show signs of obvious dental decay5, highlighting the need for mum’s early intervention.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, explained why it is so important for mums to be vigilant when it comes to their child’s oral health.

Dr Carter said: “Your child’s oral health plays a key part in their early years’ wellbeing, and your help and support will go a long way to ensuring they remain on the right path. Numerous studies have shown that children who learn good habits early are far more likely to carry them into adulthood and the ability to pick up a solid oral health routine is no different.

“The British Dental Health Foundation stress that from an early age all children should visit the dentist so they get used to the sights and surroundings. We believe parents are the first line of education when it comes to teaching children good oral health practices.

“Ensure that cleaning your baby’s teeth becomes part of their daily hygiene routine. As a parent you may find it easier to stand or sit behind your baby, cradling their chin in your hand so you can reach their top and bottom teeth more easily. When the first teeth start to come through, try using a children’s toothbrush with a small smear of toothpaste. Once all the teeth have come through, use a small-headed soft toothbrush in small circular movements and try to concentrate on one section at a time.

mother-baby“Make sure you are supervising their brushing until they reach seven. The most important point to emphasise is arguably you ensure your child brushes for the full two minutes, as children are often renowned for their short attention spans so this may require more observation. It will help their development if you use a toothbrush with a small, medium soft head on it and should brush their teeth using a pea-sized blob of fluoride toothpaste. All children over the age of three should use toothpaste with a fluoride level that contains 1,350-1,500ppm (parts per million). Toothpaste fluoride levels for the under three’s should have 1,000ppm plus, take your dentist’s advice. Encourage your child to spit out any toothpaste and not to rinse after brushing.”

The survey, commissioned by the British Dental Health Foundation, ahead of the UK’s largest oral health campaign, National Smile Month, aims to address the UK’s attitudes and behaviours towards their oral health.

National Smile Month has the backing of some of the nation’s biggest household names including platinum sponsors Oral-B, Invisalign and Wrigley. The charity campaign is also supported by Philips, Denplan and Tepe.

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1. British Dental Health Foundation (2015) National Smile Month Survey: ‘Who taught you how to brush your teeth?’, UK.

Who taught you how to brush your teeth?
Number of people Percentage
Mum 1374 68.53%
Dad 102 5.09%
Sister/brother 38 1.9%
School 47 2.34%
Myself 351 17.51%
Other 93 4.64

2. British Dental Health Foundation (2015) National Smile Month Survey: ‘When did you teach your child/children how to brush their teeth?’, UK.

When did you teach your child/children how to brush their teeth?
Number of people Percentage
0-2 909 45.34%
2-5 469 23.39%
5-10 76 3.79%
10+ 4 0.2%
I do not have children 547 27.28%

3. Public Health England (2014) Oral health survey of three-year-old children 2013. A report on the prevalence and severity of dental decay [pdf]

4. Public Health England (2013) National Dental Epidemiology Programme for England, oral health survey of 5 year old children 2012

5. Health and Social Care Information Centre (2014) Children’s Dental Health Survey: England, Wales and Northern Ireland


Oral Health Foundation

The Oral Health Foundation is a charity that works to improve oral health by providing education, advice, and support to millions of people every year, changing lives for the better. Our mission is to support others in achieving a healthier life through better oral health. Our vision is to live in a world where everybody has a healthy mouth and is free of dental disease. Poor oral health can have a harmful and devastating effect on a person’s life – both for their physical health and mental wellbeing. We are determined to help more people achieve good oral health and have a better quality of life. Sadly, oral disease remains common, across the life course. We are taking the challenge to reduce the harm caused by poor oral health and the responsibility to create a healthier future for everybody. We do this because we believe that everybody deserves to have good oral health. To make sure this happens, by 2024, we will:

    • Work towards decreasing the prevalence of oral disease across communities.
    • Increase the number of people accessing our help and information services.
    • Diversify our range of resources to reach more communities.
    • Successfully campaign for policies which help people achieve healthier lives.
    • Generate new and nurture existing income streams that enable us to deliver our charitable objectives.

We are going to achieve success by:

    • Running awareness campaigns like National Smile Month and Mouth Cancer Action Month.
    • Giving anybody who needs it direct support through our Dental Helpline.
    • Influencing policy on subjects like dental access, sugar, and tobacco.
    • Providing consumer advice on oral health care products and working alongside manufacturers to make sure products do what they claim to do.
    • Creating resources and information that communicates positive oral health messages.
    • Working alongside others who share our passion for health and wellbeing.

To find out more about us, visit our website at

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