Teething is an important, albeit sometimes painful, process that all babies must go through. Teething babies are often cranky, but the reward for the pain is pearly new teeth to aid in the chewing of an expanding assortment of foods. Parents, especially those dealing with their first child, are sometimes confused as to the symptoms of teething, and may be unsure of how to tend to their fussy, teething baby. Fortunately, teething rarely continues for more than a few days, and the emergence of each new set of teeth is generally easier for both baby and parents to deal with.
Teething is considered by some to be a gateway between the newborn period and later infancy, when babies can use their new teeth to explore new textures and flavors. Because teething is so critical to normal development, babies who are very late in teething may be behind other children in many areas, including fine motor control and oral abilities. This is because teething encourages babies to explore their environment in new ways, and motivates them to use their hands and fingers to bring objects and food to their mouths.
The signs and symptoms of teething vary from one child to another, but typically teething babies experience irritability, drooling, coughing, ear pulling and trouble sleeping. A chin rash may also be present. And, teething babies tend to bite and chew on everything around them. The gums inside the mouth may be red and swollen, and some teething babies may develop cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose or sneezing. Because the symptoms of teething may differ considerably from child to child, even experienced parents may have trouble identifying the symptoms right away. Some teething babies may exhibit all the signs and symptoms of teething, while others may show none.
Most babies will begin teething at approximately the same age, and most teeth erupt in a fairly similar pattern. Some teething babies can vary considerably from this pattern, however, so there is no real way of knowing when a baby's first tooth will erupt or how long and painful the process will be. Some teething babies may experience symptoms of teething for weeks before a tooth erupts, while others may wake one morning with a new tooth. Teething often follows hereditary patterns, which means a baby is likely to get teeth based on the teething habits of the parents. Typically, baby teeth arrive in pairs and follow a general timeline. The lower central incisors often arrive around the age of 6 months, followed by the upper central incisors around 8 months of age. A couple of months later, the lower and upper lateral incisors arrive. The first molars generally do not arrive until at least 14 months of age, with the canines following at about 18 months, and the second molars making an appearance near the second birthday.
Teething babies do not normally experience diarrhea, body rashes, or fever, and a pediatrician should see any baby that exhibits these symptoms. Many parents insist that these symptoms are a normal part of teething, and this may be true for some babies. However, these symptoms can be indicative of an infection or serious medical condition and need to be checked out by a doctor. If your child has not gotten teeth by the age of 15 months, he or she will need to be seen by a dentist for evaluation. Although it is not abnormal for teeth to erupt early or late, an x-ray will be needed to determine the cause of significantly delayed teething.
Teething babies will chew and bite on everything within their reach, which makes them especially prone to choking and poisoning. Care should be taken to remove any potentially dangerous items, including plants, magnets and any items small enough to fit inside baby's mouth. Hard foods, such as uncooked carrots, frozen bananas and hard bread should not be offered to a teething baby due to the risk of choking unless enclosed in a mesh teething container. Additionally, it is never okay to rub brandy or any other type of alcohol onto a teething baby's gums. Even very small amounts of alcohol can be harmful. Numbing gels should be used sparingly, if at all, as they may make it difficult for a teething baby to swallow.
The pain and discomfort of teething can be safely helped by a variety of home remedies. Massaging your teething baby's gums will relieve discomfort while encouraging the new tooth to break through the gum. Frozen toys, washcloths and teething rings can reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. Cool fluids offered in a cup or bottle will ease discomfort and replace fluids lost due to excessive drooling. When these teething aids are not enough, teething tablets or OTC medications such as infant Tylenol may alleviate your teething baby's pain long enough for both of you to get some sleep. Medications, even those sold over the counter, should only be used under the supervision of your baby's pediatrician.