Unless you’re in the dental field, you probably don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the dental care of your grandchildren. You should, though. Grandparents are in a perfect position to help promote good brushing habits and cavity prevention, and it’s never been important than now.

The United States is experiencing resurgence in childhood tooth decay, according to top U.S. dental associations. Dental disease has become a top chronic health problem for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Part of the problem lies in the fact many parents don’t think baby teeth are important, as they’ll be replaced by a child’s permanent teeth. Also, some pediatricians—my grandsons’ included—typically recommend a child first visit the dentist at three years of age. Dental associations, though, have recently updated their recommendation for dentist visits to be once the very first tooth has erupted. Grandparents can and should encourage parents to take the kiddos to the dentist as soon as that first tooth is celebrated.

Other ways grandparents can promote good brushing habits and cavity prevention:

  • Be sure grandchildren brush morning and night when staying with Grandma and Grandpa. Have fun (and spare) toothbrushes on hand, as well as flavored toothpastes that appeal to the little ones. Maybe make a game of it and brush together. Also, be sure to supervise the older ones and do the actual brushing for little ones.

  • When seeking small gift ideas, consider giving new toothbrushes and toothpastes featuring a child’s favorite characters. Or maybe a battery powered one if a grandchild doesn’t have one at home.

  • Limit candy, soda, juices, and sweet treats that aren’t good for teeth.

  • Same goes for fast food and processed foods, which are typically high in sugar.

  • Never share eating utensils with children as that can transfer cavity-producing bacteria from your mouth to theirs.

  • Keep on the lookout for tooth decay and halitosis (bad breath). If noticed, mention it—tactfully, of course—to Mom or Dad.

  • Read picture books together that focus on good dental habits. Some to consider: ABC Dentist: Healthy Teeth from A to Z by Harriet Ziefert and the many books including favorite characters—Dora the Explorer, Berenstain Bears, Elmo—visiting the dentist.

Lisa is a Colorado-based freelance writer. She publishes the Grandma's Briefs website, where she shares bits on life's second act and strives to smash the outdated "grandma" stereotype. Lisa has been married to the same man forever; together they have three adult daughters, one son-in-law and three adorable grandsons — children of the middle daughter and her husband. Lisa is easy to find online as she's known as GrandmasBriefs wherever she goes: Twitter (@grandmasbriefs), Facebook, Google+ and elsewhere.