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Brushing is the most effective method for removing harmful plaque from your child's teeth and gums. Getting the debris off their teeth and gums in a timely manner prevents bacteria in the food they eat from turning into harmful, cavity-causing acids.

Start cleaning your baby's gums at birth, using a soft infant toothbrush and water. Use a small piece of wetted gauze or a washcloth to wipe away plaque on your infant's teeth. And avoid using fluoridated toothpaste on your child until he or she reaches the age of 2.

As soon as your baby's first teeth erupt, begin brushing them with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste. Encourage your child to spit out - not swallow - excess toothpaste after brushing.

By the age of 4 or 5, your child should be able to begin brushing his or her teeth alone. Children under the age of 6 should use only a pea-sized dab of toothpaste on their brush and should spit out as much as possible. The reason for this is that children are most sensitive to higher levels of fluoride.

Most dentists agree that brushing three times a day is the minimum; if your child uses fluoride toothpaste in the morning and before bed at night, he or she can get away without using toothpaste during the middle of the day. A simple brushing with plain water or rinsing the mouth with water for 30 seconds after lunch will generally do the job.