When raising a young child, parents have an overwhelming amount of information to process and consider, especially when it comes to their child’s health. While ensuring a child continues to develop physically ranks as a parent’s top priority, certain aspects of a child’s development can become overlooked, especially when it comes to their oral health.

Tooth decay has become a national problem in the U.S., with 25 percent of children in the country suffering from untreated decay. In fact, tooth decay has become the most common chronic illness found in kids today. This problem stems primarily from parents failing to practice quality oral hygiene with their kids.

Even though you may not consider tooth decay that pressing an issue because your child will eventually lose his or her baby teeth, excessive decay at a young age can cause serious long-term health problems with your child’s oral development.

Baby teeth play a vital role in how permanent teeth form, and provide your child with a basis from which to learn how to eat and speak. When decay causes baby teeth to fall out at too young an age, a child can begin to experience problems eating when trying to compensate for missing teeth. In the long-term, lost baby teeth could cause your child’s permanent teeth to develop crooked, crowded, or misaligned, and may result in a speech impediment.

To help a child enjoy a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums, parents need to follow these oral care tips.

Start Oral Care Early

One of the biggest reasons tooth decay has become such a problem with children is the lack of oral care most receive early on in their development.

Your child’s teeth respond to the effects of plaque, a sticky biofilm that grows in the mouth and causes decay, just as adult teeth do. They need regular cleaning to avoid suffering the damage caused by plaque following each feeding. Children still bottle fed have an especially high risk of suffering from tooth decay, as the sugary substances found in formula and juice tend to pool around the gum line where they provide plaque with plenty of fuel to produce acids that erode away tooth enamel.

To combat the effects of plaque, parents need to wipe their child’s gums following each feeding with a soft cloth in order to remove remaining formula. Once your child has developed teeth, you need to start gently brushing them with a child-sized toothbrush following each meal. However, because ingesting too much fluoride at a young age can cause fluorosis, a cosmetic discoloration of teeth, parents should avoid using toothpaste until their child has learned not to swallow during brushing. Parents also need to start flossing their child’s teeth once two or more teeth have formed next to each other.

By practicing these simple oral hygiene steps, you can greatly reduce your child’s chances of suffering from decay.

Schedule Early Dental Appointments

While parents eagerly schedule their child’s first pediatric appointment early on to ensure their child remains health, most don’t to take the same precaution when scheduling their child’s first dental appointment.

Even though taking your child to the dentist may seem like something that you can delay, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents schedule their child’s first dental appointment by the age of 12 months. This provides your dentist with plenty of opportunity to spot early signs of decay and identify any problems your child may have with his oral health development.

Failing to take your child to the dentist until he has an oral health problem could delay treatment until nothing can be done to correct the problem.

Keep Up the Habit

Taking charge of your child’s oral health shouldn’t stop once she becomes old enough to hold a toothbrush. Kids don’t possess the motor control, patience, or attention to detail needed to practice quality oral hygiene. Parents need to continue to handle the oral hygiene duties until their child possesses both the motor skills and attention to detail needed to correctly brush.

Most children begin to develop the motor control needed to brush around the ages of six or seven. However, whether a child possesses the maturity to handle their oral hygiene depends on the individual child.