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Teething is a process that all babies must undergo. It is the eruption of their first set of teeth through their gums. Because people rely on their teeth to chew, teething is an important and momentous stage. However, it is not a fun one, as it is often uncomfortable or even painful for children and a source of frustrated helplessness for parents. Because of the discomfort and stress associated with teething, it is crucial for parents to understand what to expect and what can be done to best soothe their child and make the process less traumatic.
Teething: Onset and Sequence
Parents should know when to anticipate the start of teething. While some infants may have a few teeth at birth or a few weeks after, this is a rare occurrence. When this happens, it is generally not a problem or cause for alarm unless the teeth are loose or hinder the baby from being fed. Most often, teething begins somewhere between the ages of 4 and 7 months. These first teeth are typically the central incisors, which are the two front teeth on the bottom. Four to eight weeks later, the central and lateral incisors, which are the four upper front teeth, are the next teeth to emerge. The lower lateral incisors will take approximately another month to break through. Following the lower lateral incisors, the teeth needed to grind food, which are called molars, will break through. The pointy upper teeth called eyeteeth are typically the last teeth to come through the gums.
The entire process in which all 20 primary teeth emerge can take until a child’s third birthday to complete. If it takes longer than this, it is important for parents to speak with their child’s doctor.
Signs of Teething
Although some babies don’t exhibit any symptoms associated with teething, many babies do. There are a number of common signs that parents should be aware of that often manifest even before the first tooth erupts. Drooling is one of the most recognizable of these signs, as is chewing on hard items. This chewing often is a result of tenderness and swelling of the gums. Gum irritation can cause a baby to become cranky and cry more frequently. It may also cause a slight elevation in their temperature. Teething babies may also experience changes in their normal routine such as alterations in sleeping and eating patterns.
While parents should expect some symptoms associated with teething, they should not be excessive, nor should their baby become sick. If a child develops a high fever, has severe diarrhea, or is overly fussy, consulting a doctor is the safest course of action.
Ways to Ease Teething Discomfort
Making one’s baby more comfortable is a priority for most parents. There are several ways to go about this.
- Regularly wipe off any drool with a soft and clean cloth to prevent rashes from forming on the baby’s face, neck, or chest.
- Massage the baby’s gums gently with a clean finger.
- Allow babies to chew on safe objects. Give them something that is firm and large enough not to be a choking hazard. A chilled rubber teething ring or a clean, damp washcloth that’s been chilled in the freezer are common choices. Use care with either option to avoid injury. Washcloths may be placed in the freezer, but leave them in no longer than 20 minutes: This helps to prevent them from becoming too hard and potentially bruising the baby’s gums.
- For safety, a teething ring should never be tied to any part of the baby, as this can cause strangulation should it get caught. Amber teething necklaces should also be avoided, as they may break and cause choking.
- Only children who eat solid foods should be given teething biscuits or food items that are cold or frozen. When using solid foods, parents must watch their child, as these could potentially become a choking hazard should pieces break off.
- Teething gels and tablets may not be safe for use and should be avoided.
- Acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be an option, but parents should always ask their doctor first before giving their child a dose.
- Neither aspirin nor alcohol should be placed against the gums or teeth.
Caring for Baby Teeth
Dental care is as important for babies as it is for adults. Maintaining healthy teeth and gums early on creates a healthy environment for new teeth to grow. Parents should start caring for their child’s mouth even before the first tooth. This is done by using a clean, damp gauze or cloth to wipe down their gums. A soft and wet infant toothbrush, minus toothpaste, may also be used to brush the gums. This should be done daily.
For the best long-term results, children should be seen by a dentist after the arrival of their first teeth. According to the American Dental Association, this initial visit to the dentist should take place by the time they reach the age of 1 or ideally within six months of their first tooth. These new teeth must be cleaned properly to prevent decay and tooth loss. In caring for a baby’s teeth, avoid letting the baby fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, as pooled juice or milk may cause tooth decay. While primary teeth are not permanent, their loss can cause permanent teeth to be crooked when they grow in.
A tiny amount of fluoridated toothpaste should be used to clean new teeth, increasing the amount around the age of 3 or when children understand that they must spit it out. This is important because fluoride is not safe for children if they consume too much of it. The amount used for young children should be no more than the size of a pea at this stage. When all teeth have come in, brush twice daily, particularly after meals. In addition to brushing, parents should also start teaching their children to floss.
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- Conditions and Diseases: Teething
- Dental Hygiene: How to Care for Your Baby’s Teeth
- Teething Signs and Symptoms
- Teething Fact Sheet