Purpose The purpose of this study was to examine the potential association between the glycemic index (GI) and the glycemic load (GL) with early childhood caries in preschool children. Design/methodology/approach This cross-sectional study collected data from 225 children aged 37-71 months in governmental nursery schools within the Altindag district of Ankara, Turkey. GI and GL values of foods and beverages were calculated using 2008 international tables of GI and GL. Dental examinations were done under daylight and by using a headlight. The prevalence of caries was obtained by calculating the number of the decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft) index score or decayed, missing and filled surface (dmfs) index score. Findings There were significant differences in the dmft and dmfs scores according to GI groups (p = 0.022 for both). The multivariate models showed that children who consumed a high-GI diet had higher dmft scores compared to children who consumed a medium-GI diet (ss 1.48, 95% CI -1.48, 4.44), whereas children who consumed a high-GL diet had lower dmft score compared to children who consumed low-GL diet (ss 0.55, 95% CI -0.97, 2.07), however, they were not statistically significant. Originality/value Dietary total GI and GL did not significantly influence the caries experience of preschool children. Future studies should focus on the different age groups with a broader perspective.