What is teething?

Teething is the normal process of new teeth working their way through the gums. Your baby’s first tooth may appear any time between the time he is 3 months to 1 year old. Most children will have all 20 of their baby teeth by the age of 3.

Most children have completely painless teething. The only symptoms are increased saliva, drooling, and a desire to chew on things. Teething occasionally causes some mild gum pain, but it usually doesn’t cause any crying or interfere with sleep. When the back teeth (molars) come through (age 6 to 12 years), the overlying gum may become bruised and swollen. This is harmless and temporary.

Because teeth erupt almost continuously from 6 months to 2 years of age, many unrelated illnesses are blamed on teething. Fevers are also common during this time because after the age of 6 months, infants lose the natural protection provided by their mothers’ antibodies.

Which baby teeth come in first?

Your baby’s teeth will usually erupt in the following order:

  1. 2 lower inner incisors (bottom front teeth)
  2. 4 upper incisors (top front teeth)
  3. 2 lower outer incisors and all 4 first molars
  4. 4 canines
  5. 4 second molars.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Gum massage

    Find the irritated or swollen gum. Putting pressure on the sore gum can reduce any discomfort. Massage it with your finger for 2 minutes. Do this as often as necessary. You may also massage the gum with a piece of ice.

  • Teething rings

    Your baby’s way of massaging his gums is to chew on a smooth, hard object. Teethers or teething rings are helpful. Most children like them cold. Offer a teething ring that has been chilled in the refrigerator, but not frozen in the freezer. A piece of chilled banana may help. Avoid ice or Popsicles that could cause frostbite of the gums. Also avoid hard foods that he might choke on (like raw carrots). Teething biscuits are fine.

  • Diet

    Avoid salty or acid foods. Your baby probably will enjoy sucking on a nipple, but if he finds this uncomfortable, use a cup for fluids temporarily.

  • Pain medicine
  • Pain medicines usually are not needed for the mild discomfort of teething. If the pain increases and doesn’t respond to gum massage, give acetaminophen (Tylenol) for 1 day. Special teething gels are probably not beneficial and can be harmful. Many teething gels contain benzocaine, which can cause an allergic reaction, choking or even bluish skin (cyanosis). In addition it’s unlikely teething gels can numb the gums because they are washed out of the mouth and swallowed within a few minutes. The FDA recommends that gels containing benzocaine never be used in children under 2 years old. Gum massage works better.
  • Common myths about teething
    • Teething does not cause fever, sleep problems, diarrhea, diaper rash, or lowered resistance to any infection. It probably doesn’t cause crying. If your baby develops fever while teething, the fever is caused by something else.
    • Don’t tie a teething ring around your baby’s neck. It could catch on something and strangle your child. Attach it to your baby’s clothing with a “catch-it-clip.”

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call during office hours if:

  • Your child develops a fever.
  • Your child develops crying that doesn’t have a cause.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-10
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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