Teething Symptoms & Treatments: Everything You Need to Know

My twin boys didn’t get their first teeth until they were about 11-months-old, so teething symptoms weren’t something I had to deal with right away as a mom. Nevertheless, I still spent the first year of their lives blaming every rough night, every crying fit, every low grade fever, and the occasional snotty nose on teething. “Oh, he must be teething,” I’d explain away, as my son had a loud, screaming meltdown in the middle of a restaurant. The truth is though that many of a baby’s early woes can be blamed on those pesky baby teeth, pushing their way through the gums.

Teething is when a baby’s teeth are in the process of erupting or emerging into the mouth, says Robert Delarosa, DDS, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). “Symptoms usually begins about two to five days before the tooth erupts, and most often stops once the tooth has broken through the gums,” he says. “However, in some babies, symptoms can persist off and on for up to two months after the tooth has broken through.”

Luckily, as hard as teething is on your baby — and you — there are several things you can do to help ease the pain of their teething symptoms. Read on for more info…

At what age does teething start?

On average, a baby’s first tooth erupts around 6 months of age, but she can still get her first as young as three-months-old and as late as a year old. Baby teeth will appear in roughly the same order in every child. “Eruption is usually symmetrical, meaning that the lower two front teeth usually come in before the upper two teeth, and usually follow a pattern, working their way out from the front teeth, to incisors, molars, canines, and second molars,” says David M. Krol, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Toledo, Ohio. By the time kids are 3-years-old, they should have all 20 of their baby teeth, he adds.

In what order do a baby’s teeth appear?

According to the American Dental Association, babies are born with 20 baby teeth. The size, shape, and location of your baby’s teeth will be unique; however, they will erupt in the same basic pattern as the teeth of other babies. In general, the incisors on the bottom and then top come in first. They’re followed by the canine teeth and then molars. (Check out this helpful chart created by the association for a helpful diagram.)

What are the symptoms of teething?

Every baby is different, so while some babies might have no problems with teething, others will have a fairly hard time with it. “The most common symptoms are discomfort, soreness, and swelling of the gums where the tooth will emerge, as well as drooling from the increased saliva flow,” says Dr. Delarosa. “Symptoms tend to be worse at night.” Still, as any mother will tell you, there are often other signs of teething that seem unrelated, but totally point to tooth trouble. Some possible symptoms include:

  • Cough and runny nose– due to excess drool running down your baby’s throat (however, excessive cough and runny nose signal illness).
  • Sleep disturbance — teething pain tends to be worse at night.
  • Decreased appetite — because even breastfeeding can be irritating to a baby’s sensitive gums.
  • Loose or increased stools — yep, another result of all the drool.
  • Rash — caused by chafing from the baby’s excessive drool.
  • Biting — to help relieve pressure from the erupting teeth.
  • Low-grade fever — due to your baby’s swollen gums. (Note: A temperature higher than 100.4 is not a sign of teething, so something else may be plaguing your baby.)
  • Puffy gums — due to the pressure of a tooth’s impending eruption; gums might even look bruised and swollen.

What can you do to treat the pain?

“The best thing you can give them are cold items because they act as an anesthetic for the gums,” says Dr. Krol. So, you’ll want to pop his teething toys in the freezer, as well as pacifiers, baby spoons, or a clean, wet washcloth. Cold liquids, ice cream, and yogurt can help to relieve the pain of teething. Gently massaging his gums with a clean finger can also help soothe away your baby’s pain, in a natural way. You also may notice that nursing or cuddling your baby seems to help alleviate the fussiness that comes with teething. Lastly, you can give your baby over-the-counter pain medication, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Just be sure to follow the recommended dosage, and consult your pediatrician if you have questions about how much pain reliever to give your baby.

What pain-relieving methods should you avoid?

You will do just about anything to help your baby feel better when she’s hurting, but there are some pain-relieving myths and methods that you should definitely avoid, according to the experts. “Some parents like to give their babies frozen bagels or bananas to soothe their tooth pain, but it can be a choking hazard if small pieces break off,” Dr. Krol warns. Teething gels are another no-no. Both the AAPD and FDA warn against using them because they can be absorbed into your baby’s blood stream, and numb his throat. In rare cases, there are serious risks like allergic reactions and seizures.

When should you call the doctor?

If your baby’s teething symptoms seem to be excessive — say, a fever higher than 101 F, even if there are no other symptoms, or you’re unable to soothe your baby with any of the methods above, it’s a good idea to call the doctor, says Dr. Krol. You also want to alert your doctor if your child doesn’t have any teeth by 15-months-old; she may want to send your child to a pediatric dentist for an x-ray.

Although teething wasn’t fun, it helped to know that what my boys were going through was normal. There were things that I could do to help ease their pain, and I knew that my boys wouldn’t be teething forever. We eventually got through it, and you will, too!

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