Parents are under attack for allowing children as young as five to brush their own teeth unsupervised.
A survey has found that more than one in five under-fives are being left to brush their teeth alone.
This comes at a time when dental experts are stressing that learning good oral care habits at an early age is vital to the health of teeth throughout adulthood.
A quarter of patients questioned also thought – wrongly – that children did not need to brush twice a day, and 67% thought brushing for one minute was enough.
The survey – of 1,000 people – was carried out by the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF).
The results also showed that 23% thought there was no need for children to avoid fizzy drinks, even though they have been linked to dental damage.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the BDHF, said: ‘These results really are very worrying and help explain why around half of children under the age of five currently have tooth decay here in the UK.
‘Not only has research shown that people who learn good habits as children are far more likely to carry them into adulthood, but taking bad habits into adulthood will cause gum disease and this has been linked to all manner of serious conditions including diabetes, strokes, heart disease and low birth-weight babies.’