Oral Health in Early Years

Oral Public Health Specialist

North Somerset Council

Public Health, Post Point 11, Castlewood, Tickenham Road, Clevedon, BS21 6FW


    Teeth are important for biting, chewing, smiling and talking, yet a quarter of 5 year olds in the UK have tooth decay in 3 or more teeth, by the age of 12 a third of children are too ashamed to smile, due to the level of tooth decay they are experiencing. This brings home the importance of the EYFS oral health requirement, but how do you implement it in your setting? This article aims to get you on the right track, by looking at six elements of your setting; Mealtimes, Songs and Rhymes, Books, Play and Activities, Staff Training and Parent/Carer Involvement.

    For information on supervised toothbrushing, follow this link.

    For staff training opportunities, follow this link.

    For Department of Education information about oral health responsibilities, follow this link.

    Eat Well


    A great way to instil a habit of eating food that is good for teeth, is to encourage this at mealtimes in your setting. If children bring in packed lunches, consider communicating (via a letter home or a social media post) some great ideas for balanced, low sugar, low acid lunches. If you provide meals or snacks in the day consider if these meet the guidelines of the Eat Well guide or the Eat Better Start Better guide.

    teacher reading to a class of preschool kids


    Whether its one-to-one, in a group or sent home to read with the parents, consider what books are available to the children in your care. What do they teach about oral health habits and how could this be improved? 

    The Oral Health Foundation list educational books that you may find are supplied by your preferred stockist. You could choose two or three that cover different topics, such as brushing teeth, visiting the dentist and healthy eating 

    Find the list of recommended books on their website

    There are also some great story books out there that include narratives around oral health. The Oral Health Foundation list some of its favourite stories here.   

    Children’s stories that encourage good oral health

    Songs and Rhymes

    There are a range of songs available to find online, that promote healthy habits. As a starting point, set good precedents by including tooth brushing as a verse in any songs that describe routine (for example, sing “This is the way we brush our teeth” whilst singing “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush”). 

    A boy with Down syndrome plays a role-playing game with dental toys and model


    As play is children’s primary medium for learning, it follows that oral health habits are going to be best picked up through play opportunities. There are lots of activity ideas available on resource sharing websites, but be cautious about the activities you choose. Making a model of teeth isn’t necessarily promoting oral hygiene, develop such plans into an activity that does, for example, follow up with an activity on cleaning the teeth.  

    You could equip your setting with resources for learning together such as tooth brushing demonstrator puppets, or teeth models, which can be used for looking at teeth and demonstrating good brushing. These can also be used at parent events or in conversations with parents who ask for more help. 

    Dentist Role Play

    Role play that promotes positive connections with visiting the dentist is really helpful. This could be created with things available to you, or through playsets available from toy stores. Settings may choose to purchase a toy that has teeth, to place in their role play dental clinic as a patient, so as not to encourage cross contamination of the play dental tools. 

    Find an example of a dentist role play set on this website.

    Playdough Activities 

    Play activities with dough can be a great way to make learning tactile and hands on. Settings might purchase or create a dentist play dough set. These might be helpful for aiding tactile role play and hosting conversations with children around teeth and visiting the dentist. 

    Find an example of a dentist dough set on this website

    Parent and Carer Involvement

    As much as we can promote and encourage during contact time with children, it is their parents who will ultimately help them make good choices. Support parents to know what good choices look like and how to navigate life’s priorities to ensure the best outcomes for their children. Staff training will help with this as it improves confidence. There are also communication resources available to support you in getting the message home, such as the “Looking after children’s teeth” video here, which can be shared via social media. 

    The third module of Children’s Oral Health training (mentioned in the Staff Training section) is called “Behaviour Change Conversations” – this would give any staff member a bit more confidence to speak with parents about making a change to improve their child’s oral health.  

    Leaflets are available if handing out literature works in your setting. The Institute of Health Visiting have made a comprehensive handout for parents or you could order or download resources from the “Top Tips for Teeth” campaign from Public Health England.

    If you have a social media following of parents, you can share about the NHS Food Scanner App using the demo video available to download here. There are resources available from Public Health England to promote healthy swaps.

    Download the Food Scanner Resource Pack here

    Staff Training

    Keep staff up to date with the latest guidance and advice, by giving regular training. This could be through in house discussions, e-learning modules or by signing up to the North Somerset CPD course “Promoting Oral Health to Children, Young People and Families”.

    For current training opportunities, follow this link. 

    Upon completion of training, you may find you want to draw up an oral health policy, or review the one you have. A template has been included here to help you out.

    Children’s Workforce Training: Oral Health Promotion

    Promoting Oral Health to children, young people and families is a Teams based webinar from North Somerset Council. It is in workshop format and works best when participants come bring their own experiences and questions to inform the session.

    Those with an interest in promoting oral health to children and their families, can book on to training from the North Somerset CPD Online portal.

    Teams based webinars will be on the following dates. Click the date to follow the link to the booking page:

    Friday 26 January 2024 at 1pm

    Thursday 22 February 2024 at 1pm

    Wednesday 20 March 2024 at 1pm

    If you can’t make it to these dates there will be more in the future; you can use the contact form on the Oral Health home page to register your interest. Alternatively, Health Education England offer a free online course which you can work through at a time convenient to you.

    Children’s Oral Health for All