They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nowhere is that more true than in caring for our smiles. Teeth, after all, should last a lifetime, and good dental habits should begin in early in your child's life and be continually reinforced as they get older.

The reality is that nobody likes getting cavities. In addition to being painful and unsightly, they involve unpleasant trips to the dentist that are the bane of every child's (and adult's) existence. Tooth decay is in fact classified as the most common infectious disease to affect children, and it is five times more prevalent than asthma. Dentists stress that it is highly preventable if measures are taken to care for ones teeth early on.

There is a common misconception that it is less important to care for a child's baby teeth because they will be replaced, but this is not the case. Tooth decay in a child's primary teeth can affect the development of their permanent teeth, which in turn can have a negative impact their appearance, their ability to chew, and their speech.

If that's not enough reason to take care of your teeth, then consider this: experts are becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between cavities and our overall health. Tooth decay has been linked to heart disease and lung infections later in life, both of which are leading causes of death in adults. Oral health in pregnant women has also been linked to an unborn baby's development in the womb.

These sobering facts make it all the more important for us to teach our children to take better care of their teeth. Not only will it help to keep their smiles beautiful, but it could also very well help protect their overall health.

Here are 6 steps that parents can take to help ensure this happens.

1. Brush and floss regularly.

Obviously the first step begins at home. Children should be taught to brush at least twice every day, in the morning and before bed. Parents should brush and floss their kid's teeth until they are old enough to do it themselves. Always use a soft brush and make sure to clean all exposed surfaces of the teeth.

2. Start early.

Healthy practices become good habits by starting early and continuing until they become second nature. Kids will embrace taking care of their teeth if the message is taught early on and reinforced and encouraged by mom and dad. Once they become habits, then kids can perform them on their own.

3. Stand your ground.

Don't let kids slide. Kids will usually opt for the path of least resistance, so parents need to stand their ground and make sure their kids brush and floss regularly. This requires parental diligence, and may be met with resistance, but healthy habits are not always about having fun and being popular.

4. Eat a healthy diet.

Eating a healthy diet is not only better for your children's teeth, but will benefit their overall health. Processed foods and junk food are laden with sugar, salt, and fat, which will contribute to tooth decay and obesity. Feed your kids plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein, as well as calcium-rich foods.

5. Drink more water.

Sweetened beverages are a significant source of empty calories and contribute to tooth decay and obesity. Offer your kids water instead of soft drinks early on and they will come to expect it. Dentists recommend that when a baby's first tooth appears, they should be given water before bed instead of milk or juice.

6. Visit the dentist regularly.

Experts recommend that a child should visit a dentist by 12 months or within 6 months of when their first tooth appears. From there, a child should visit his or her dentist regularly.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with you dentist. For more information, visit the website for the American Dental Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).