EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — A lot is at stake for a child whose dental health is neglected. That neglect can lead to a life of oral health problems.

Experts say every child should get a dental checkup by age 1 or as soon as they get their first tooth. But many kids are becoming cavity-prone because they’re ‘brushing off’ that important visit.

What’s the most common chronic disease among kids in the U.S.? The answer: tooth decay, according to the CDC. More than 40 percent of children develop a cavity before kindergarten. The problem, considered largely preventable, has been worsened by the pandemic.

“So they haven’t been going as often and then when they go they’ve had more cavities, more gum problems, more you know buildup around their teeth,” stated Jeannie Beauchamp, President, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

That buildup called plaque can destroy tooth enamel, trigger tooth decay and gingivitis, and even break down bones that support those ‘pearly whites.

“A lot of times if you lose that tooth early the other teeth around it will close in and then there won’t be room. And so when the permanent tooth does start to come in, it’s crowded, it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it doesn’t look very good and the children get self-conscious. Sometimes it could affect their speech or the way they’re eating and chewing up their food,” explained Beauchamp.

Tooth decay can also trigger pain and send bacteria into the bloodstream, affecting the heart or other organs all because of a small cavity that wasn’t nipped in the bud.

“All of a sudden they’ll have a bigger cavity and then we have to decide can it just have a filling, does it need a crown, is it going to have to be taken out?” said Beauchamp.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry urges parents to get their children’s dental health back on track with a checkup every six months, even as the pandemic lingers.

“The offices are safe, you know, we’re at the very top level of infection control. We are, you know, having fewer people in the waiting room at a time. We’re doing all the things we can to keep the family safe so we want parents to feel comfortable coming into the office,” explained Beauchamp.

The kids most at risk for dental health problems? Children from low-income families or families with a history of cavities, those with a lot of sugary food and drinks in their diet, and those with braces, orthodontics or oral appliances.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has plenty of resources to help you provide your children with better care for their teeth. To check out recommendations head over to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry website.