If you’re a parent, you probably know that teething can be uncomfortable—for you and baby. But knowing what symptoms to look for—and when to look for them—can help you choose the right remedies to soothe baby’s gums and ease his pain.
Does this sound familiar?
You’re starting to get the hang of this baby thing. Your feeding and diapering routines have machine-like efficiency, and you’re finally sleeping for longer than four hours at a time. Then, baby starts teething.
When your baby is refusing to eat or nap and seems fussier than normal, teething may be to blame. Then again, there may be another issue at play, and when baby’s behavior seems to change overnight, it can be hard to determine the cause.
Teething happens for most infants between four- and twelve-months-old. Usually, the process is only mildly uncomfortable, but some infants have more discomfort than others. There may be drooling, nonstop crying, irritability, and even a refusal of milk and naps.
Teething (particularly the need for baby to chew on hard objects) may have an evolutionary purpose, as it primes baby’s mouth for ongoing oral development and prepares the jaw for erupting teeth. So despite the frustration you and baby may feel, it’s critical that you support this process to ensure that his teeth, mouth, and jaw grow correctly. (And, of course, getting him out of pain is important, too.)
This post is designed to help you understand whether your baby is, in fact, teething, what to expect during the process, and what you can do to ease your baby’s discomfort.
There are lots of teething remedies out there, including amber and silicone teething necklaces, chewing toys, biscuits, and medications. With that in mind, this article will also explain which treatments are safe and effective, which ones you should avoid, and which remedies help promote the proper development that will help your baby grow into a child (and, later, an adult) with straight teeth and correct facial growth.
What is teething?
While infants seem to be born with no teeth, they actually have a full set of baby teeth sitting just under their gums. Teething is the process through which those teeth cut, or break through, and become visible above the gum line.
By the time your little one is three years old, he should have a full set of 20 teeth. (Then, later in childhood, those baby teeth will begin to fall out and be replaced by permanent teeth.)
During teething, baby teeth break through the gums in stages. The order teeth appear is generally similar for most babies and typically starts with the bottom teeth. Sometimes teeth appear out of order, however, but this is not generally cause for concern. In more rare cases, some babies will even be born with a tooth or two.
Simply put, a wide variety of teething experiences still fall within the range of healthy and normal.
When does teething start and end?
The age babies start teething is genetic—if you got your first teeth early, chances are your baby will, too.
As mentioned, the first teeth to push through will generally be the bottom central incisors around 4-7 months of age, followed by the top central incisors, which erupt around between 8-12 months.
Central incisors are commonly known as “front teeth.” The upper lateral incisors, which are the teeth flanking the central incisors, generally start to appear around 9-13 months, followed by the lower lateral incisors around 10-16 months.
Your child’s first molars will come in next, starting with the upper first molars around 13-19 months. The lower first molars follow, typically around 14-18 months.
The upper canines, also called cuspids, emerge as your baby becomes a toddler, around 16-22 months. The lower canines follow shortly after, around 17-23 months. Canines are named for their resemblance to a dog’s fang, although they can also appear more flattened.
Around 25-33 months, the upper second molars emerge. Their appearance typically signals the end of your baby’s teething process.
Again, these are general guidelines, and your baby’s teething process may be different. However, if your child hasn’t had any tooth eruptions by 18 months, consult a dentist or doctor.
What are teething symptoms?
While some babies have no symptoms, others may experience one or more of the following:
- Loss of appetite: Your baby may not want to eat as much as normal, due to inflamed gums.
- Drooling: Babies frequently drool, but with teething you may see more than normal.
- Sore and tender gums
- Gnawing on solid objects: When teething, your baby may want to put his mouth on everything in sight to soothe his sore gums. So this is a good time to be especially careful about leaving objects around that aren’t safe.
- Mild fussiness and crankiness: Your baby may be more irritable than normal. He is experiencing discomfort without understanding the cause, so it’s normal for him to feel upset.
- Red and swollen gums: The visible signs of inflammation may allow to quickly see that baby is teething
Teething may cause discomfort, but it is unlikely to cause excessive crying. Additionally, while your baby may be more fussy than usual during the day, he shouldn’t have any sleep problems as a result of teething.
Additionally—and despite pervasive rumors to the contrary—teething does not cause a runny nose, diarrhea, a fever, or diaper rash. However, the small openings in your baby’s gums may make it easier for your baby to contract a virus that may cause a cold or illness.
Please remember that if your child looks or acts very sick, it’s important to visit a doctor. The symptoms of teething should be mild.
How can I ease teething discomfort?
Discomfort while teething is completely normal, but there are steps you can take to help your baby through the process.
A gum massage is one of the safest, easiest, and best remedies for teething. Try rubbing your babies gums with a clean finger, a washcloth, or a gum-rubbing finger pad. You can also try rubbing your baby’s gums with a cold spoon or moist gauze.
Cold food like chilled applesauce or pureed fruit may soother sore gums.
Teething biscuits may provide relief for sore gums, but I don’t recommend them, as they are a processed that is high in carbohydrates. If you want to give your baby an edible teether, I recommend filling a mesh feeder with chopped apples or other fruit. This will keep baby’s oral microbiome balances and minimize the risk of decay.