Teething syndrome — or simply “teething” — is a normal process that some infants go through as their teeth break, or cut, through their gums. According to the American Dental Association, babies start teething when they are between 6 and 12 months old. By the time a child is 3 years old, they should have a first or primary set of 20 teeth.
Having teeth means your child will be able to eat a bigger variety of foods, but getting there can be tough on both baby and parent. There are ways you can make your child more comfortable during the process, and there are signs that signal when it’s time to call the pediatrician.
Babies are born with a full set of teeth underneath their gums. During the first year of life, these teeth begin to cut through the gums.
These teeth break through the gums in stages. Typically, the classic bottom teeth — often referred to as pegs — come in first, followed by the top middle teeth. From this point on, the remaining teeth will cut through the gums over a period of three years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some children may even get their full sets of teeth after 2 years of age.
Each infant has a unique mix of symptoms during teething. The most common symptoms are mild irritability and a lack of appetite.
Many babies have few or no symptoms when their teeth break through the gums. Some babies will show at least one or two of the following symptoms when they begin to teethe:
- chewing on solid objects
- mild fussiness and crankiness
- loss of appetite
- sore and tender gums
- red and swollen gums
While teething is a natural process, there are some tried and true methods to help relieve your baby’s discomfort. You can try rubbing your child’s gums with a damp washcloth, a clean finger, or a special gum-rubbing finger pad.
Teething rings are also popular options. Babies can chew on these to ease the discomfort. If you can, chill a teething ring in the refrigerator beforehand. This provides pressure on the gums along with a soothing coolness. You should never freeze the ring because it can break and possibly choke your infant.
With time, you should begin to introduce harder foods, like cold fruit and vegetables, to your baby’s diet. This is an important milestone that can also alleviate teething discomfort. Make sure to stay with the child at all times so you can monitor their chewing and prevent choking.
During teething, a baby’s constant drooling can irritate their skin. Use a bib to keep your baby’s chin as dry as possible.
If your infant is really having a tough time, you might want to give them infant acetaminophen to relieve discomfort. You can also apply a teething gel. However, avoid gels that contain choline salicylate and benzocaine. These are not safe for infants, since they can reduce the levels of oxygen in the blood. Teething gels give only brief, if any, relief.
There are other supposed remedies out there that should be avoided. In fact, such methods can actually harm your baby. Never:
- give a baby aspirin or rub it on the gums
- use alcohol on the baby’s gums
- put completely frozen objects directly on the gums
- allow your child to chew on hard plastic toys — this poses both an oral health risk as well as a choking hazard
Many parents believe that high fever and diarrhea are also symptoms of teething, but this is usually not the case. Contact your pediatrician if your baby develops a fever or diarrhea, or if they’re having continued discomfort.
Teething is a natural part of an infant’s growth and development. Due to the pain and discomfort, it’s easy for parents to become anxious about the process. Know that the symptoms of teething will eventually pass, and that your child will one day have a healthy set of teeth thanks to your efforts to keep up with good oral hygiene. Any specific concerns or prolonged discomfort should be addressed with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor.