I grew up being told that teeth should last a lifetime, but to a young child, what exactly does that mean? Not much, and as a result, I neglected my teeth and suffered accordingly. Today parents (and kids) are much more informed about what constitutes healthy habits.

However, even though we are more aware than ever about the right thing to do, many of us, myself included, are guilty of neglecting some aspect of our health, and one area that seems to suffer a lot is our teeth. Whether it's forgetting to brush after every meal, flossing regularly, or consuming too much sugar, our teeth are under constant assault from tooth decay. In fact, cavities, which are considered an infectious disease, are on the rise. They are the most common chronic disease in children and are five times more prevalent in kids than asthma. Left untreated, cavities can lead to infections that can profoundly affect a child's health.

The good news is that tooth decay is largely preventable, especially with a wholesome diet along with a program of good oral health. February is Dental Health Month and a good opportunity for parents to teach their kids good habits and help them to adhere to them.

1. Start Early

Dentists recommend that a child should be first seen by a dentist by 12 months or within 6 months of the time the first tooth emerges. As soon as their teeth come in, parents should brush and floss regularly them regularly to set a precedent of good oral hygiene that the kids will embrace as they get older. Remember, habits that begin early are much easier to enforce.

2. Avoid Excessive Sugar

Sugar is the fuel that drives tooth decay, so the less of it we eat, the lower our risk for cavities. Try to encourage your family to eat foods lower in refined sugar and like everything, start early. Processed foods and sweetened beverages are loaded with sugar, which is often hidden in the ingredient list with different names. Parents should be aware and informed.

3. Drink More Water

Drinks like soda and juice have amazing amounts of sugar, and because they go down so easily, we end up mindlessly consuming large quantities of them. This is not only bad for our teeth but it adds a huge number of unwanted calories and replaces real nutrition. Drink more water at meals, which will protect your teeth, save you money, and help you keep your weight down.

4. Set a Good Example

Like all good habits, it's hard for us to sell them to our kids if we don't embrace them ourselves. Plus, being older and wiser, we should know better. So parents should make the effort to eat healthy and reduce our sugar consumption. This will not only benefit our own health, but it will send the proper message to our kids that we care not only about their health, but about our own, as well.

5. Stand Your Ground

Being a parent is a challenge on so many levels, and one of the most difficult is being the enforcer. We all want our kids to like us, but it's important to keep in mind that we are parents first, best friends second. Despite their protests, stand your ground and insist your kids take care of their health, which of course includes their teeth. Don't let it be an option.

6. Eat More Real Food

By now most parents know that fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains are nutritious, but they are also lower in refined sugar. Eating a healthy diet will not only make us feel and perform better, but it help to reduce our risk for tooth decay.

7. Make It a Habit

When kids are regularly exposed to something early on, they come to accept it as a normal part of daily life. As hard as it may to be to believe, they will even want to do it. I've witnessed this firsthand, but it begins with starting good habits early and promoting them diligently.

8. Make It Cool

Most adults know that projecting a positive image or getting a date begins with fresh breath and a winning smile, but kids have to learn these things over time. While longing for the approval of their peers is not the most worthwhile goal, image consciousness is a fact of life for most kids (and adults), so why not encourage them to pursue it with a healthy set of chompers?

If you have questions or concerns about your family's teeth, talk to your dentist or visit the website for the American Dental Association (ADA).