Though those first tiny teeth attract plenty of attention, over time a child’s teeth garner a lot less interest. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), pediatric dental disease is the most prevalent chronic childhood illness in America.

More than 40 percent of children have dental cavities by the time they reach kindergarten. Untreated tooth decay can have serious consequences for children’s health and well-being, including pain, insomnia, malnourishment, emergency surgery, life-threatening secondary infections and even death.

The good news is that tooth decay is preventable. Follow these simple steps for optimal oral health:

1. Start positive oral health habits early

Decay can start even before teeth are visible, so children should visit a dentist by age 1. In addition to early identification of potential problems, dentists can offer advice on proper care of a child’s teeth, including whether fluoride varnish, mouth rinses and dental sealants are recommended.

2. Brush twice a day for two minutes

Beginning at birth, infant gums should be cleaned with a damp cloth or soft toothbrush and warm water after each feeding. Parents should brush and floss young children’s teeth (until the child has sufficient dexterity to do it for themselves) and monitor the oral health habits of older children. Toddlers and young children should use a soft child’s toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste.

3. Be watchful at bedtime

Infants should never be tucked in bed with anything but plain water in their bottles. Fluids containing sugars, including formula, left in the mouth while an infant is sleeping can cause severe tooth decay known as “Baby Bottle Syndrome.”

4. Limit sugar intake

Good oral health is not just about brushing and flossing, it is also about maintaining a healthy diet. Teeth bathed in a steady stream of sugary beverages and sticky snacks are more likely to develop cavities. Even fruit juices, often viewed as healthy for children, contain high levels of natural sugars that can be harmful to teeth.

Though eventually replaced by permanent teeth, primary teeth or “baby teeth” are critically important to a child’s oral health. They aid in speech development, foster good nutrition through proper chewing and preserve proper space in the jaw for the eruption of permanent teeth. Cavities are not “inevitable,” and daily, positive oral health habits can go a long way in preventing them.