The epidemic of tooth decay in our children has increased over the past 30 years. In fact, a study by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry shows that tooth decay is now the most common chronic childhood disease in the U.S.

As a dentist, my approach focuses on diet first—even more than brushing and flossing. Investigation into how cavities form reveals that simple dietary habits can lead to almost 100 percent cavity prevention.

But parents with youngsters know it isn’t practical to completely restrict carbs from their child’s diet. And the good news is they don’t have to. This is because it’s not the amount consumed but the frequency with which simple carbs make contact with the teeth. For example, drinking a smoothie in one sitting is better than taking drinks from a sippy cup over several hours. A zero-cavity program doesn’t require a complete family diet overhaul if you know how to work the system.

To achieve zero cavities for your child—as well as older children and adults—here are the five prevention principles I recommend:

1. Protect baby teeth.

Don’t fall for the myth that baby teeth don’t matter because children will lose them at a young age. While baby teeth may begin falling out at age 5 or 6, children keep their back molars until ages 10 to 12. Cavities in baby teeth need to be treated. Preventing cavities through diet, even at a young age, removes the trauma for everyone involved.

2. Offer teeth-friendly foods.

Fat, protein, and fiber do not cause cavities. Simple or processed carbohydrates do. This means, counterintuitively, you are better off feeding your child a piece of 70 percent dark chocolate than a pretzel, cracker, or handful of raisins.

Starches, including not only sugar but all dried, processed flours, cling to the teeth and cause a large percentage of cavities. For this reason, eating bread and fresh fruit is better than eating crackers and dried fruit. You don’t have to eliminate all carbs from the diet—you just have to change the quality of the carbs and how they’re consumed.

You can read the other half of this great article on Mind Body Green here: