How to help your baby through the teething phase
As babies inch toward infancy, teething is a common problem. Your child may be fussy and irritable or chewing and sucking on everything within reach. The good news: Teething is temporary — and there are tips and tricks that can make it a bit easier.
When does teething start?
The experience of teething is different for every baby, though most kiddos get their first tooth between 6 and 12 months of age. Some 1-year-olds may still have a toothless grin, but if their bone growth, skin and hair are normal, chances are good that they're just late bloomers.
If your child is well past their first birthday, with no signs of teething, mention it to your pediatrician. It may be time to see a pediatric dentist. An X-ray will reveal whether teeth are in place beneath the surface. Most children have all of their teeth by the time they reach age 3.
What are some signs of teething?
Teething symptoms can last for just a few days before a tooth erupts, or they can persist for months as a group of teeth emerge all at once. For a few lucky babies (and their parents), teething doesn't cause any symptoms at all.
The most obvious signs tend to be red and swollen gums, and a baby who is just a bit fussier than normal.
Other signs may include:
- An emerging tooth
- Refusing food
- Trouble sleeping
- Grabbing at the face and ears
- Excessive biting, chewing and sucking
If you've got several of these symptoms happening at once, the odds are that your baby is teething. Some children may even spike a low-grade fever (a temperature above 100.4 is likely due to an infection, not teething).
What are the best teething remedies?
You know your child is fussy and uncomfortable. You know that the sensation of a tooth cutting through the gums is probably miserable. So what can you do to minimize the pain and best support your baby?
Here are five safe and simple strategies:
- Break out a washcloth. Run a rag under ice cold water and give it to your baby to suck and chew on. The combination of the cold, the texture of the rag and moisture seems to be a winner for many babies.
- Massage the gums. Teething babies tend to like the feeling of pressure on their gums. It helps detract from the sensation of teething pain. Use clean fingers to rub the gums and let your baby gum and mouth your fingers.
- Cuddle more often. Teething can be super uncomfortable for babies. Sometimes, holding or rocking your child can help calm them down so they're better able to tolerate the discomfort.
- Use a refrigerated teether. Many teething rings are designed for chilling. Toss them in the fridge, then break them out when your baby seems fussy or uncomfortable. A cold teething ring helps reduce inflammation in the gums while also giving your baby something safe to chew on.
- Pain relievers. If nothing seems to dull the pain, and your baby is extra fussy, over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) may provide some relief.
Teething remedies to avoid
Not all products marketed for teething are safe or effective for babies. Two to watch for:
- Homeopathic teething products: Some parents swear by homeopathic teething drops and tablets, but the risks of homeopathic treatments far outweigh any potential benefits. Unlike conventional medications, homeopathic formulas are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead, they're marketed as dietary supplements and are not subject to the same rigorous testing as conventional medicines.
- Topical anesthetics: While you may be tempted to rub a numbing gel or cream on your baby's gums, it's best to steer clear. In rare cases, products containing benzocaine can cause methemoglobinemia, a condition in which the amount of oxygen in the blood drops dangerously low. Plus, topical medications typically don't stay where you apply them. They can go down the throat and mix with saliva, which can relax the gag reflex and potentially lead to choking.
Teething won't last forever, but it can be challenging, particularly if multiple teeth are emerging at the same time. If your baby seems extra irritable and standard solutions aren't working, talk with your child’s doctor. You may need a referral to a pediatric dentist to rule out problems with your child's teeth.
To find a pediatrician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.
Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician and the physician champion for childhood wellness for Henry Ford LiveWell. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in midtown Detroit and Sterling Heights. Learn more about Dr. Leatherwood Cannon.