As babies make their way through their first year of life, there are so many milestones to mark. That first smile or laugh. Sitting up on their own. Crawling, Pulling themselves up. Walking. And – of course – the appearance of those first tiny little teeth.
While those first teeth are certainly adorable and add a new dimension to your baby’s smile, teething time can be difficult for both the child and his or her parents. Teething symptoms are often troublesome and cause pain for the little one and usually a good amount of despair and frustration for the parents doing the soothing.
But if you know what to expect and when to expect it as well as how to handle teething symptoms, you’ll find that this entire stage of development doesn’t have to be a difficult one.
When does teething begin?
You’ll likely be able to quickly determine that your baby’s first teeth are starting to come through, especially if you’re a breast-feeding mom. But, as a rule, you can expect them to show up any time between about 3 months and a year-old. There’s a wide range of normal where teething is concerned so there’s no need to be alarmed if your baby is 6 months old and there’s no sign of those tiny white nubs that usually appear on the bottom gums.
Of course, there’s reason to celebrate when they do appear as it’s another wonderful sign of your baby’s constant growth into a little person. But as a parent, it’s certainly logical to be concerned about whether or not your baby is uncomfortable through this stage of development.
What are the first teething symptoms?
Symptoms of teething can appear long before you feel or see the teeth that are making their way through your baby’s gums, and the most frustrating thing about a little one being in pain is that they are – of course – unable to vocalize and tell you about that discomfort. So, it rather becomes a guessing game for the parent, but if you are familiar with the most common signs and symptoms of teething, you can stay a step ahead of the game.
To help, here’s a list of some of the most common symptoms associated with teething.
- Irritability – One of the first signs of teething can be noticed when your otherwise-pleasant baby becomes very irritable and fussy. As the teeth press through the gums, your baby will feel anything from mild to much more intense discomfort and that’ll make them grumpy. Think about how you feel when you’re suffering with a toothache or other pain and it’s easy to understand the irritability.
- Crying – Crying, of course, goes hand-in-hand with irritability. When gum tissue becomes inflamed, pain happens and the baby’s only way to let you know about this is by crying. Some babies will cry a lot, others not much at all. Dentists hypothesize that the first two teeth hurt the most, causing the most distress, and then – eventually – the baby becomes acclimated to the discomfort caused by teething and is less likely to be fussy when later teeth come in.
- Drooling – Teething stimulates drooling, which is likely why you’ll start seeing all that water come from your baby’s mouth starting at about 10-12 weeks old until about 6 months old (or older, depending on your baby’s personal teething schedule). There really isn’t much you can do about the constant saliva, so have some bibs ready to keep his or her shirt dry and keep a cloth handy so that you can wipe the baby’s chin regularly to avoid a skin rash or chafing.
- Coughing – Sometimes, coughing can be a direct result of the extreme amount of drooling caused by teething. Babies accumulate a mouth full of saliva and that can make them gag or cough. As long as your baby has no other symptoms of a cold or other respiratory infection, there’s likely no need for concern if you notice this in tandem with excessive drooling.
- Biting – To relieve the pain of teething, “counterpressure” is a good option. You’ll notice that your baby is chewing or biting whatever they can grab when they are teething. It might be you and your finger or it could be any object they can grab with their tiny hands. That’s why it’s a good idea to guide that biting and chewing by offering good old-fashioned teething rings or rattles. Some parents have discovered that putting these items in the refrigerator to make them cold soothes their child even more when they bite or chew on them.
- Cheek rubbing and ear pulling – Teething can irritate more than just the baby’s gums. If you’ve ever had a toothache or other dental issue that causes pain, you can probably recall that your entire face hurt while this was happening. The same is true for your baby. Because the gums, ears, and cheeks all share the same nerve pathways, those can hurt, too. So, you might see your baby constantly tugging on his ears or rubbing her face during the teething months.
- Difficulty eating or refusing food – It can be scary when your child doesn’t want to eat, especially if he or she is already a picky eater. If a baby is nursing, the suction created by breastfeeding can sometimes irritate the gums, causing the baby to turn away from the breast. The same goes for the baby who is drinking from a bottle. Older children on solid foods may also experience discomfort while eating and will refuse food or eat less, simply because they don’t feel well or because eating hurts.
- Difficulty sleeping – All experienced parents have been there! You’ve just gotten to the point where your baby is sleeping for a long stretch or even through the night and now they’re waking up again. Just like us, pain can cause them to wake from a deep, contented sleep or can make it difficult to fall asleep. It’s not unusual for your child’s sleep patterns to change during teething but, don’t worry, they’ll likely resume their good sleeping habits when the pain subsides.
What should I do to relieve teething symptoms?
No one wants to see their child suffer. It’s heartbreaking when your baby is in pain but there are a number of things you can do to try to help relieve teething symptoms.
- Chewing – As mentioned previously, your teething child will likely want to chew everything in sight. That’s okay. Just be sure to provide him or her with things to chew on that won’t cause any harm. Soft chewy toys and teething rings work well. Just do your best to keep them as clean as possible. As was mentioned previously, keep some of these in the refrigerator because cold objects are very soothing. Some babies like to chew on a wet washcloth; just make sure it’s clean and free of soap.
- Cold water or food – If your baby is already drinking water, giving him/her a cup of cold water may be helpful. Depending on age, you can also give your child other cold foods to which they’ve already been introduced, like applesauce and other fruits. Older kids can suck on sugar-free fruit pops as well.
- Pain relievers – If your baby seems to be in constant pain, there are no other symptoms of illness, and you’ve tried all the other solutions to relieve teething symptoms, ask your pediatrician if it’s okay to give your baby some acetaminophen for relief. DO NOT, however, use numbing products, like Anbesol™, as it is not safe for babies and young children. It’s also wise to stay away from homeopathic “teething tablets” you can find on the internet as they often contain small amounts of belladonna, which can cause breathing difficulties in little ones.
Anchorage Pediatric Dentistry can be reached at (907) 562-1003 if you would like to schedule an appointment or consult with our board certified pediatric dentists. It is always our pleasure to help answer any questions about your child’s dental health. Our goal is to help your child have a lifetime of healthy teeth.
We look forward to meeting you!
by Christy Jen, DDS