AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the U.S. − more common than childhood obesity, asthma and diabetes — according to researchers from the National Health Institute.

The NIH report, called Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges, found nearly 57% of children from 12 to 19 years old in the U.S. have had dental cavities in their permanent teeth. Older teens, Mexican-American children and those living in families with lower incomes were more likely to have decay.

“There’s a lot of evidence that shows cavities in baby teeth certainly affect what happens in your adult teeth,” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry President Dr. Amr M. Moursi said. “It affects how well you eat, how well you sleep how well you do in school. It really is an important part of your overall health.”

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends all children see a dentist by their first birthday. Moursi recommends children see a dentist when their first teeth come in, which is typically around six months.

“There’s a lot that we can do during that first visit. It helps children become more comfortable with being a dentist but we can also talk about how to prevent cavities, thumb sucking and pacifier habits and what to do about teething. All the issues that concern your child’s oral health,” Moursi said.

Members of the Oral Health Caucus recently sent a letter to every member of Congress asking fellow lawmakers to prioritize children’s dental health.

Moursi agrees parents should prioritize oral health in their children and offers two things parents can do to help keep tooth decay at bay.

“One is diet. You don’t want to overdo the sweets, but the more times you eat or drink, the more cavities you’ll get. Even if it’s nutritious food, like apples and bread and milk, you should be eating all those things, but if you’re constantly nibbling, grazing throughout the day, that’s what’s going to cause cavities,” Moursi said.

“The second is brushing with fluoride toothpaste, brushing in the morning after breakfast, last thing before bed and no rinsing with water after brushing that just dilutes out a lot of the fluoride. That’s critical at preventing cavities,” Moursi said.