NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Tooth decay is the most chronic disease in children, with one in five kids having at least one tooth untreated.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and 10 On Your Side talked with a local pediatric dentist about how to keep your child’s choppers healthy.

Dr. Nathan Shapiro of Eastern Virginia Pediatric Dentistry said many people mistakenly believe that because baby teeth fall out, cavities aren’t that big of a deal.

When children lose teeth early due to large cavities, its possible their adult teeth won’t come in to the right spot. Large cavities can also hurt, or worse.

“Once those cavities reach a certain size, they can get to the nerve and blood vessel system of the tooth,” Shapiro said, “and that’s where we can develop an infection or things can spiral out of control pretty quickly where we end up in an emergency room.”

That’s why Shapiro said children should see a dentist twice a year starting before their first birthday, or within six months of their first tooth appearing.

“Once that first tooth comes in a lot can follow you know, very shortly afterward,” Shapiro said, “and in six months, for kids, a lot can change with their teeth and with their mouth.”

Regular dental appointments, he told us, are just as important as good nutrition and good brushing.

Brushing should begin as soon as the first tooth erupts. Use just a small smear of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice, and wipe off with some gauze or a washcloth. Dr. Shapiro says, brushing should be a team activity, with parents doing most of the work until at least age eight.

“If you give them that toothbrush and then turned away, they might not be doing a good toothbrush thing on their own, or they may be rushing through it,” he said.

When we asked one one thing the doctor would eliminate from children’s diets if he could for better dental health, he said it would be sweet drinks. That includes, juices, sweet teas and sports drinks that bathe the mouth in sugar and sink right in between teeth.

He also warns parents not to let their children take a bottle or sippy cup to bed. The milk sitting on their teeth all night can do damage as well.