Teething in babies is a process that can start as early as 3 months or as late as 14 months with signs and symptoms that can begin 2-3 months before the appearance of the first tooth. The average age for that first tooth is about 6 months, but parents should not worry if their baby experiences teething differently than a previous child or a friend’s baby. Teething in babies depends on different factors, including heredity (when mom or dad began teething) and if your child was born early (preemies typically teeth late).
Teething in Babies: Symptoms, Signs and Eruption Timeline
A general timeline for tooth eruption is:
- 6-10 months: Lower central incisors (2 bottom front teeth)
- 8-12 months: Upper central incisors (2 top front teeth)
- 9-13 months: Upper lateral incisors (on either side of the upper central incisors)
- 10-16 months: Lower lateral incisors (on either side of the lower central incisors)
- 13-19 months: First molars
- 16-23 months: Upper and lower canine teeth (next to the lateral incisors)
- 2 years: Second molars (behind the first molars)
Symptoms of Teething in Babies
The teething process is different for each individual baby, but most babies exhibit at least some of these common teething symptoms:
- Excessive drooling: Babies tend to produce extra saliva when teething, so be sure to have bibs handy.
- Facial rash: Excessive drooling can cause chafing and redness around the mouth and chin. Gently pat the area dry with a bib or soft cloth or use Vaseline or Aquaphor to protect the skin.
- Biting: Babies bite on just about anything to relieve the pressure created by newly erupting teeth. Counterpressure created by gnawing on something alleviates this discomfort.
- Pulling or rubbing the ears: Teething pain in the jaw often transfers to the ear canal due to the shared nerve pathways.
- Irritability, general fussiness, or crying: Just like adults, babies get fussy when they are uncomfortable. The gums often become inflamed as the tooth passes through, especially when the larger molars are coming in. Many babies seem to become accustomed to teething discomfort over time, while some tend to be acutely aware of teething pain throughout the entire process.
- Nighttime wakefulness: Tooth eruption does not stop at the end of the day and, for some children, even seems to be more prominent during nighttime hours. Teething is often the cause of lost sleep for both the child and the parents. Try letting your child settle down on his/her own, or if necessary, soothe your child back to sleep rather than create a habit of nighttime feedings that will be hard to break after teething is complete.
- Change in eating habits: Some babies refuse to eat because the sucking motion from nursing/bottles or the spoon on their gums creates more discomfort. Others may want to eat more because the bottle or spoon creates counterpressure and gives relief. Be patient and try multiple methods of feeding if necessary.
- Increased coughing or gag reflex: The excessive amount of drooling during teething can cause gagging or coughing. As long as your baby is not showing other signs of sickness, you need not be concerned.
- Swollen, red, or puffy gums: Your baby’s gums may appear red and swollen just prior to a tooth erupting. In some instances, especially involving molars, a bluish cyst may present that breaks when the molar pushes through. Some bleeding may occur but is not harmful to your baby.
- Low-grade fever: Doctors are still divided on whether babies can experience fever due to teething, however, if your child does run a low-grade fever while teething, keep a watchful eye out for other symptoms. A fever over 101° or for longer than 3 days is best evaluated by your pediatrician.
Teething Remedies for Babies
If you have a teething baby, you have probably received solicited and unsolicited advice on how to alleviate teething discomfort. Some methods are tried-and-true, while others can actually be harmful to a baby. If you are unsure about using a particular method for teething relief, ask your doctor.
Safe teething remedies for babies include:
- Counterpressure/massage: Teething toys or even your finger can create friction, soothe teething pain, and help break down gum tissue. Be sure not to give your baby anything too hard that could damage incoming teeth.
- Chilled (not frozen) washcloth: The cold temperature helps numb the gums and the thick fabric creates counterpressure which feels good.
- Cold food or drinks: Chilled applesauce, yogurt, or even cold water in a bottle can relieve aching gums. Be sure to supervise your child while eating and do not give large chunks of cold food that can create a choking hazard. Your doctor can advise you on age-appropriate foods that you can use.
- Distraction: Teething is generally a dull, aching pain, and distracting your baby with a special toy or activity can often take his/her mind off of being uncomfortable.
- Extra comfort: Sometimes the hugs and snuggles from mom or dad are just what the doctor ordered. Extra one-on-one time can sometimes be the best remedy for a fussy teething baby.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: If other methods are unsuccessful, over-the-counter pain medicines usually provide temporary relief for teething. Be sure to consult your doctor if you are unsure of the recommended dose.
Remember, every baby is different, so you may have to try a few methods before you find one that works best for relieving your child’s teething symptoms.
What to Avoid When Your Child is Teething
Some teething remedies found on the internet and other sources, while effective at alleviating teething pain, can actually be dangerous.
- Rub any type of alcohol on your child’s gums: Rubbing alcohol or tiny amounts of liquors, such as brandy, can be poisonous to babies.
- Give your child extremely hard food (such as toasted bagels or zwieback crackers) or frozen foods (such as bananas or carrots): These can soften and become choking hazards.
- Use amber teething necklaces: Placing anything around a baby’s neck is dangerous and the beads can be a choking hazard if they are pulled off.
Caring for Your Baby’s New Teeth
As your baby’s teeth begin to emerge, it is important to start good oral hygiene right away. It is a good idea to schedule an appointment with your pediatric dentist at the first sign of tooth eruption or by age 1, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Other tips for taking care of your baby’s new teeth include:
- Use tap water (most contain fluoride) to brush your child’s teeth: Your dentist will advise you on using fluoride toothpaste.
- Do not let your child go to bed with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk, juice, or other sugar-containing drinks: This practice is a main cause of early childhood caries (baby bottle tooth decay).
- Gently brush teeth twice a day with a baby tooth brush
- Give your baby water (once he/she is able to have it) after meals to help wash away residual food
Remember that your baby’s primary teeth, while not permanent, are important to keep healthy. They serve a vital role in your child’s long term dental health. Learn about permanent tooth eruption in children.
At Discovery Kids Pediatric Dentistry, our top priority is helping your child achieve and maintain a cavity-free, healthy smile for life.
If your child’s teeth are emerging and you would like to schedule your baby’s first dental check-up, please contact Dr. Zarmin Lalani and her team at Discovery Kids Pediatric Dentistry Frisco, Texas, by completing an online appointment request or phone 469-365-5437.