Your baby is growing up so fast. It seems like just yesterday you were welcoming them home, listening to their first coos and, unfortunately, getting used to some sleepless nights. Now, you've entered a new phase: teething. While those new pearly whites sure are adorable, teething is a new experience for baby and one that could come with some challenges. William Wathen, DMD, associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Dentistry, offers some tips and tricks to get your family through the pains of teething.
When do babies start teething?
Most babies get their first tooth around six months of age, although some can start as early as three months and some as late as eight or nine months. Your child will first sprout their bottom biters, which can cause mild discomfort and curiosity. Typically, their front teeth will appear first, followed by the first molars and then the canines or eyeteeth.
"Your baby may begin chewing on anything they can get their hands on when they're teething," Wathen said. "They may be fussy during this time or you may notice that their gums are a little swollen or red."
What signs of teething should I look for?
Many parents will attribute fever, diarrhea and constipation to teething, however many experts believe these symptoms are not related to teething itself. Instead, teething presents with swollen and tender gums, drooling, irritability, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite.
Children may put their hands or other objects in their mouths during this time to ease the pain, so it's not uncommon for them to simultaneously contract a virus or bacteria. Parents should be sure to keep the baby's common areas clean to help prevent the spread of germs. If your child has a fever higher than 101 degrees, that warrants a trip to your health care provider.
Tips to cope with the pain
It's tough to see your baby struggling with discomfort, but luckily there are a few things you can do to help ease this tough time for your teething child.
If your baby is fussy, it's best to give them a plain, solid teething ring. This allows your child to apply pressure to ease the pain on their own. Some parents may opt to chill their teething ring which may help, however, don't give them a completely frozen ring as contact with extreme temperatures can be harmful instead of soothing.
"Your child's gums can be sensitive during this time, and your child will know how much pressure they should apply to try and relieve the pain," Wathen said. "They're their best teacher and, in this instance, know what they need."
Another common soothing method is to massage their gums with a clean finger or a cooled washcloth. While this may ease the pain, it will take a lot of give-and-take with your baby. Also, if you've began introducing solid food to your baby, cold applesauce or yogurt could offer them some edible relief.
"It's important to respond to your baby when it comes to coping with the pain," Wathen said. "Your baby may want more pressure or less pressure, so it'll take a lot of experimenting to see what works and which areas of the gums are most sensitive."
One common habit that parents may fall into is giving their child pain relievers, however, it is usually unnecessary. "I do not suggest giving them pain relievers," Wathen said. "Just remember that teething is a normal event, and if baby has discomfort, it is mild and temporary."
Another common product that parents may give children is a teething gel, however this can be problematic as well. "Many teething gels contain benzocaine," Wathen said. "This ingredient can be harmful to babies if they swallow it, which is very likely if it's on their gums."
Teething tablets have also been an item of controversy when it comes to relief. The Food & Drug Administration recently publicly warned against the use of homeopathic teething tablets or gels because they pose a major health risk in children.
Your child's dental health
When your baby starts getting their teeth, it can be very exciting time for them. It's best to keep the child relaxed and be prepared to clean up a lot of drool.
"A baby will naturally drool a lot during this time," Wathen said. "It's a natural response to help cool off inflamed gums."
By the time your child gets their full set of 20 teeth, at about age 3, it's very important to have already started caring for their teeth.
"Many parents may ignore the health of deciduous teeth because they aren't their child's permanent teeth," Wathen said. "This is a very bad mistake and can lead to cavities, premature tooth loss and future problems that may need to be corrected by an orthodontist."
Wathen recommends using a soft pediatric tooth brush with water on a child's new teeth in between the child's teeth and gum-line and between the teeth to remove dental plaque, which is made up of cavity-causing germs.
"It's very important to take good care of your child's baby teeth," Wathen said. "They are placeholders for permanent teeth and play a major role in helping permanent teeth erupt into correct place and alignment."