ORANGE, Calif. – Tooth decay can have a far-reaching effect on children, leading to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning, a major concern as the school year starts.

One of every five elementary school-aged children are dealing with cavities, and those from low-income families are twice as likely to suffer from tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Western Dental, a national leader in dental and orthodontic care, stresses the importance of beginning good dental practices as early as possible, with the child’s first checkup six months after the first tooth can be seen – and definitely before their first birthday.

The all-important first visit educates parents about good dental practices, including brushing twice a day using toothpaste with fluoride, and helping children become comfortable with visiting the dentist.

“The parent training really is where the prevention happens,” said Dr. Corina Ramirez, a dentist with Western Dental’s WD Kids. “We don’t want to wait beyond age 1, 2 or 3. Sometimes it’s too late by that time and then we are doing operative procedures. We want to get them before they have cavities.”

Western Dental has a short video on an 18-month-old’s first-ever visit with Dr. Ramirez on YouTube. The eight-minute video covers what parents can expect and how to prepare their children for the first visit to the dentist.

Dental checkups every six months help children avoid cavities and other oral problems. Even though children lose their set of 20 primary teeth -- usually around 5 or 6 years old – poor “baby teeth” could mean a higher risk of decay in permanent teeth.

In addition to checkups, Western Dental and Dr. Ramirez encourage parents to avoid sugar-filled drinks, including fruit juices and sodas. Bacteria in the mouth changes the sugar in drinks and food into acid, which can attack teeth for 20 minutes or longer and lead to cavities.

“The first visit is often to take a look and count the teeth and get them up and out of the chair as fast as possible,” Dr. Ramirez said. “We want to make children as comfortable as possible with visiting the dentist and teach parents how to develop good dental practices that help prevent tooth decay.”