Teething and tiredness are what I like to dub the "catch-alls" of the parenting world. Is your baby cranky, fussy, or otherwise unusually whiny and clingy?

Well then, odds are that they are probably either tired or teething. Or, at least, that's what we will tell ourselves and everyone around us, right? But it may surprise you to hear that many of the symptoms you think are caused by teething, like a diaper rash and a fever, aren't actually caused by teething.

What Is Teething?

First up, what exactly is the teething process for babies? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains that teething typically starts around 6 months of age for babies and continues through 30 months. All in all, infants will gain 20 baby teeth through the teething process.

And because a lot of development goes into those 30 months, the AAP notes that a lot of the time, normal growth, passing illnesses, and a still-developing immune system can cause many of the symptoms we typically associate with teething. Or, in other words, don't be so quick to assume your kid's diaper rash is due to teething.

What Symptoms Do Occur with Teething?

Most of us know the traditional symptoms of teething — or at least, we think we do. With my children, I always attributed unusual nighttime awakenings, extra clinginess during the day and night, fussiness, and rosy cheeks, to teething.

But if I'm being completely honest, I also was never really that attentive to the exact moment a tooth would pop through. I mean, let's face it, a baby gets a lot of teeth in and sometimes it's hard to know if any strange symptoms are because of teething or something else.

One study looked at 475 tooth eruptions in a group of children. They determined that there really is a "teething window" that occurs with some predictable signs and symptoms in children. The study found that, in general, symptoms tended to happen four days before the teeth came through, the day the tooth actually popped through, and three days after, so a total of eight days.

Surprisingly, they found that while many symptoms that we normally think of as part of teething did happen, many other symptoms weren't associated with teething.

The symptoms that did happen with teething were:

  • increased biting
  • drooling
  • gum-rubbing
  • sucking
  • irritability
  • wakefulness
  • ear-rubbing
  • facial rash
  • decreased appetite for solid foods
  • mild temperature elevation (under 102˚F)

The symptoms that didn’t happen with teething were:

  • congestion
  • sleep disturbance
  • more loose bowel movements
  • increased number of bowel movements
  • decreased appetite for liquids
  • cough
  • rashes other than facial rashes
  • fever over 102°F
  • vomiting

Another study found that most of the time, parents tend to exaggerate their babies’ teething symptoms just a tad. Could it be possible that because you think your child is teething you're more likely to look for symptoms that aren't there? I don't know, but I do know that I've had some pretty cranky kids who magically turned back into happy, smiling babies once that fateful tooth popped through.

So what does all of this mean? It's kind of bad news if you're hoping that your baby's diaper rash can simply be written off as a part of teething, because studies show that a diaper rash is typically not a symptom of teething. Common causes of diaper rash include:

  • diarrhea or loose stools
  • irritation from urine, stool, or new products
  • infrequent diaper changes
  • yeast infection
  • changes in diet

Loose stools or diarrhea in babies, which can easily lead to diaper rashes, can be caused by many things, including diet — especially excess sugars, viral or bacterial infections, use of antibiotics, or rarely, intestinal or digestive disorders. Keep an eye on your little one if they have diarrhea or loose stools and use a baby-safe diaper rash cream with each change to prevent the diaper rash from worsening. If possible, let those baby buns air out, too. Our favorite trick is to let baby explore on a towel or old blanket to keep any mishaps at bay!

The Takeaway

While there are many common symptoms that can happen around the emergence of those infamous baby teeth, parents shouldn't be too quick to write all of the symptoms off to just teething.

For example, fevers above 102˚F are more than likely not related to "just" teething, and a diaper rash is also not a "normal" sign of teething. It's important to recognize that many symptoms that are commonly thought to be associated with teething, like diaper rashes or diarrhea, can have many other causes, and parents need to monitor those symptoms carefully and seek medical attention for symptoms that worsen or don't improve after a day or two.