When three-year-old Ben started complaining of a toothache, one look in his mouth revealed the reason.
"You can see the decay on his teeth," said Leah, Ben's mother.
Ben's dentist found cavities in 15 of his 20 teeth and recommended dental surgery.
"They're going to be pulling a lot of the teeth, and so anything left is going to be either capped or filled," Leah said.
Ben's case is hardly unique. The American Dental Association says there's been a "dramatic rise" in the number of children requiring surgery for extensive tooth decay.
"These are children anywhere from the age of one or two, up until they're six or seven," said Dr. Jonathan Shenkin with the American Dental Association.
One of the main culprits is sugar in things like juice, sweetened water, soda -- even milk and starches.
"It has a lot to do with the frequency of sugar. How often do you have sugar during the day? Every time you eat sugar, acid is formed that starts to dissolve the enamel," Dr. Berg said.
That's why it's important to "brush up" on the basics. When teeth first erupt, clean them with a damp cloth. At one year, use a toothbrush with water, or fluoride-free training toothpaste.
"Most parents are unaware that they're supposed to start using a fluoride toothpaste no later than two years of age, and that delay in using fluoride toothpaste puts kids at greater risk of developing significant decay early on," Dr. Shenkin said.
Finally, encourage healthy eating, and brush your preschooler's teeth twice a day. That's what Ben's mom does. She's all smiles now that his teeth are fixed.
"You want to do whatever you can to make him feel better," Leah said.
It's also important to avoid sharing pacifiers or utensils with your children. Research has shown the bacteria that causes tooth decay can be transferred via-saliva.