Teething is a normal part of development for babies and toddlers, but it can cause mild pain and irritability. What can you expect, and how can you help ease your baby’s discomfort?
Pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says the most common symptoms of teething are mild irritability, excessive drooling, a rash on the skin around the mouth from all that drooling, and a desire to chew on something.
“Little kids get 20 primary teeth, breaking primarily from 6 months of age forward until they
are about 2,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “The gums will become tender, red, swollen, you might even see a little bruise on the gum as the sharp teeth are breaking through.”
There are some things you can do to help ease their discomfort, Dr. Bradshaw says. “You want to give your child something safe to chew on, so either a teething ring or a cold washcloth. You can rub their gums with your finger until it kind of comforts them for a minute or two.”
If warranted, parents can consider appropriate pain medication, Dr. Bradshaw says. “If you think your child’s teething is bad enough to need a medication, the only ones we really recommend are Tylenol liquid, or if your kid is over 6 months, they can have liquid ibuprofen.”
Avoid teething gels
However, Dr. Bradshaw cautions against using teething gels for pain relief. “Things that we do NOT recommend are teething gels,” she says. “They can actually be quite dangerous.”
Topical anesthetics like teething gels often contain benzocaine and lidocaine. Benzocaine can lead to methemoglobinemia, a rare, but serious and sometimes fatal condition, where the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is reduced. Children younger than 2 appear to be at particular risk, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, lidocaine overdoses have been associated with jitteriness, confusion, vision problems, vomiting, falling asleep too easily, shaking and seizures.
Teething not linked to fever
Dr. Bradshaw says a common misconception is that teething causes fever, denoted by a reading of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. An analysis in the journal “Pediatrics” in 2016 confirmed that high-grade fevers are not a sign of teething, but more likely a sign of another illness, and parents and doctors shouldn’t ignore it.
The good news is that teething doesn’t last forever.
“It comes in waves,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “I think it’s just good practice for parents to recognize that there are going to be times when it’s a little bit challenging with our kids and we’re just going to get right through them because they will end.”
Caring for baby’s new teeth
As soon as your child’s first tooth emerges, use a child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush to brush your child’s teeth twice a day. Apply a thin coating of toothpaste to the brush (no more than a grain-of-rice-sized amount of toothpaste), place the brush at a 45-degree angle and gently brush in a circular motion for two minutes. Once your child is 3 years old, you can increase the amount of toothpaste to a pea-sized amount.
Once they have teeth that are touching, it’s time to start flossing your baby’s teeth. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that babies start seeing a dentist when they turn 1 year old.