(StatePoint) Parents and caregivers may be underestimating the importance of dental care for children’s “baby teeth.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 63 percent of children ages two to four see the dentist at least annually.

Most dental benefits cover preventive care visits twice a year with no out-of-pocket costs, and these visits are important for small children.

Baby teeth, (also known as primary teeth), play an important role in a child’s overall healthy development. If cavities begin and are left untreated, they can become painful and possibly infected. Loss of these teeth prematurely may impact eating, speaking, learning and self-esteem. Baby teeth help guide the way for permanent teeth to erupt into proper position.

Tooth decay is preventable. The investment of only a few minutes each day on the part of parents and caregivers, coupled with regular dental checkups, goes a long way in creating healthy smiles to last a lifetime,” says Dr. Diane Monti-Markowski, clinical program director for Cigna Dental.

She offers these oral hygiene tips for those caring for small children:

Plan to have your child visit the dentist by his or her first birthday or within six months after the first teeth appear.

As a child’s teeth start to come in, brush them gently twice a day with a child-sized toothbrush and water.

Begin flossing a child’s teeth daily when there are two teeth that touch.

Do not put your baby to sleep with a bottle of formula, milk, juice or any other liquid other than water.

Consider introducing toothpaste for children who are two and older and are able to follow directions to spit after brushing. The American Dental Association recommends using fluoride toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice for children younger than three years old and a pea-size amount for children three to six years old. By age three or four, your child should be able to brush with your supervision.

Make brushing fun. Let your child pick out the color of his or her toothbrush. Play a favorite song or set a timer to help children understand that good brushing takes about two minutes twice a day.

Find more tips at Cigna.com/dental-resources. For detailed questions or concerns about a child’s oral health, it is important to consult a dentist.

Adults can also reinforce the importance of oral health by their attitudes,” adds Dr. Monti-Markowski. “Encouraging good habits and showing a positive manner when visiting the dentist can lay the foundation for children to maintain healthy teeth throughout their lives.”