When babies start teething, it can affect the whole family. The pain of those first teeth slowly pushing their way through can be rough on babies, who respond by drooling, crying, pulling on their ears, and losing sleep. It also impacts parents and siblings, who usually find their sleep routines disrupted, too -- and eventually, everyone ends up a little more irritable than usual.
According to the American Dental Association, babies are born with all twenty of their primary teeth hidden below their gum line, and their entire fully-developed baby set should be in place by around age 3. Anytime starting around the six-month range (although some may start earlier than that), a baby’s teeth can begin pushing through the gums, with the lower front bottom two (usually) kicking things off. This phase is called odontiasis.
Read on for details about how to tell if the symptoms point to teething or something else, and tips to help alleviate teething pain and get everyone back to normal.
How to know if your baby is teething.
Chances are if your baby is showing the following signs, they are probably teething:
Crying or being unusually fussy
Chewing on fingers, hands, and other things
Drooling more than usual
Swollen, red gums
Decreased or minimal appetite
Other symptoms may indicate something else is occurring.
If your baby has a fever (especially if higher than 101 F), diarrhea, rash, runny nose, is vomiting, is coughing/congested, or is crying inconsolably, you should contact your pediatrician. These symptoms have long been confused with teething symptoms as they often occur during the same time. However, they are frequently found to be signs of illness, especially if they last a while.
Tips for surviving teething time:
Here are some tips to try to make the process go smoother and minimize your child’s pain. Every child is different, so what works for one child will not necessarily work for another, even a sibling. A child’s response may also differ as they grow. You can try these out and, hopefully, some will help!
Establish and keep a good sleep routine.
To the best of your ability, work with your baby to establish a reasonable sleep routine. Some parents start with giving their baby a nice warm bath, then rocking and feeding them, then wiping their gums down, and then finally lay them down with a blanket and some soft music. Others do it differently. Do what works for you, your baby, and your family. If you can get a routine established before teething starts, you’ll have a solid foundation to work with when it does. Why is a sleep routine important during teething? A tired baby will often be crankier and more difficult to soothe when teething pain begins. Also, since teething babies may have a more difficult time falling and staying asleep, an established routine will minimize this aspect – leading to more sleep for everyone in the house!
Rub their gums.
Wash your hands thoroughly or use your finger or a clean, soft cloth to press gently against their gums for a nice soothing massage. You can also use a small cold spoon that’s been refrigerated to press gently on their gums, or give it to them to hold, gum on, or press with as they wish. Some sources we found recommend keeping a few small spoons in the refrigerator ready for teething pain.
Refrigerating a pacifier can provide some lovely relief for your baby as well.
Dry off their cheeks and chin.
Keeping your baby’s face dry when they’re teething is no easy task. Do the best you can to prevent the irritation that comes with constant drool in order to prevent additional pain for your baby. Add a bib when appropriate to keep their neck, chest, and belly dry, too.
Try a teether -- but make sure you know what it’s made of.
Choose clean, bonafide teething rings or other teethers made of solid all-natural rubber, organic cotton, food-grade silicone, or food-grade BPA-free plastic. Some parents like teething toys made of untreated hardwoods while others think they’re too hard and can cause gum tissue damage. (Some babies will demonstrate a strong preference, too!) Use your own best judgment on this one or contact your pediatrician. We are happy to discuss concerns about this with you, as well.
Popping teething toys in the refrigerator gives them a nice chilly feeling on your baby’s gums which often helps soothe soreness. You could also wet a clean washcloth, preferably a textured fabric, put it into a plastic ziplock bag, and place it in the refrigerator to get cold for some added relief. Some parents put them in the freezer; make sure you don’t let them freeze longer than thirty minutes or until they become rock hard -- this could be harmful to a baby’s gums. (Be sure to take it out of the bag before giving the washcloth to your baby!) Here is a fun idea that uses this technique to develop fine motor skills.
Avoid fluid-filled teething toys that can be pierced and leak. Also, make sure the toys you choose are easy to wash in order to prevent mold from growing inside. Read labels carefully to avoid materials like PVC/vinyl, phthalates, latex, cadmium, and lead. Choose reputable brands that list all materials honestly and accurately. There have been instances where high levels of lead were used in teething necklaces labeled as hematite or otherwise inadequately labeled.
Think twice about necklaces and other jewelry marketed for teething. While some swear by the magic of amber necklaces for teething babies, the science isn’t there yet. In fact, studies have been conducted that show amber necklaces can’t possibly do what they claim to do. Plus, there’s the danger of the necklace breaking and beads choking the baby, or the necklace itself strangling the child, especially if they are allowed to wear it during naptime or other unsupervised periods.
Wear them in a carrier.
If your baby enjoys being worn in a carrier let them snuggle in and be warm against you. This is comforting for many babies as they adjust to the discomfort of teething -- and you can still pack lunches, fold laundry, or finish up some other chores in the meantime.
Figure out what helps to comfort them.
If your baby usually gets sleepy when you rock them in the rocking chair, walk them back and forth, or take them for a ride in the car, then try that when they’re teething, too. Run the fan if it helps them rest, sing softly, play some relaxing music, or let them cuddle up with their favorite stuffed animal, pillow, blanket, or doll. Anything reasonable that brings them comfort can be helpful for soothing them when their little gums are sore.
Make milk popsicles.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or your baby is old enough for dairy or other types of milk (formula is not recommended for this), milk popsicles are the new craze for teething babes. You can make them just like you’d make any other popsicles, either on their own or with added purees of fruits like peeled pear, apple, or avocado chunks (just make sure your baby is old enough for this and blend them thoroughly to avoid choking).
If you don’t have a popsicle mold, you can make them in an ice cube tray (but please be sure to inform the other family members first!) and then serve them to your baby in a BPA-free mesh feeder.
Place your baby on an easily cleanable surface, give them a popsicle and a bib, and supervise them while they enjoy it. They may need a quick wash-up afterward, but they’ll probably feel better so it’s well worth it!
Fruit or smoothie popsicles work, too.
If your baby is ready for fruit and you’re not into milk pops, you can always make fruit popsicles with fresh organic fruits pureed smooth, or a smoothie-style pop with age-appropriate ingredients thrown in. Basically, if you’ve got the popsicle mold, just use your creativity and parental wisdom to fill it, then pop it in the freezer for teething time. (Don’t forget to avoid juices or other ingredients that have added sugar. You don’t want your little one to get cavities!)
Cold foods can also be soothing.
Any of your baby’s favorite cold foods should be good to give with teething discomfort. Chilled and pureed fruits or veggies, refrigerated homemade or store-bought baby foods, yogurt, or applesauce are all nice options. Again, be sure to provide age-appropriate foods and avoid foods that have added sugars.
Consider using frozen fruits.
Cut up large pieces of peeled apple, pear, banana, or other favorite fruits. The pieces can be placed into the freezer for around an hour, then given to babies old enough to digest them and eat them without choking. Chilled purees can work if your baby dislikes or can’t manage the frozen fruits. Be cautious and provide supervision as they eat these as you would anything else.
Freeze a bottle.
Fill one of your baby’s usual bottles with fresh, clean water and freeze it nipple-side down in the freezer so that the water freezes into the nipple. Then give this to your babe when teething pain kicks in. It can give a nice cooling sensation to the gums.
Offer teething biscuits.
The earliest most babies should try teething biscuits is around eight months. Choose healthy brands with simple ingredients listed clearly on their labels (or make your own), and be sure your baby is ready for these before offering. Let them gnaw on these when ready and see that their gums are kept clean afterward. Follow suit when their little teeth peek through. A clean, soft cloth should do fine wiping the area clean of crumbs.
Try pain medication -- but only the right kind.
If your baby is at least six months old, you could give them some baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed. Talk with your pediatrician for the best recommendation. It’s best to give this to babies sparingly, and only when really necessary.
The FDA advises against using numbing medications or other topical medications for teething pain, including over-the-counter or homeopathic creams, gels, and tablets like Baby Orajel or Anbesol. They’re reportedly associated with high risk and provide minimal benefit.
Try a little foot massage.
Gently massaging certain areas of the foot and toes have been said to help calm babies -- but don’t tickle them.
If you have a baby, chances are high that you’ve seen claims that all manner of homeopathic remedies work for teething little ones. Some claim that various remedies alleviate pain or can be good teethers in a pinch. However, be cautious with these as some can actually be harmful. If it involves food, be sure to only offer them to babies who are old enough and who’ve already shown they can tolerate such foods. You may also want to run it by us or your child’s pediatrician first, just to be on the safe side.
We hope these tips will work for your baby as they navigate their teething days. We know it can be difficult but remember: your baby won’t be teething forever. Just try to stay calm and use these methods to help them through it. If we can help answer any questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call or make an appointment.
Finally, don’t forget that as soon as that first tooth pops through it’s time to schedule their first dental appointment! This is the perfect age to introduce your child to their dental home and start them on the path toward a lifetime of enjoyable visits to the dentist. We look forward to seeing your newest little one!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.