Understanding and Supporting Your Baby Through Teething
by Dr Jemma Hook @themummydentist
Teething can be an exciting time – a milestone that your baby is growing up and this is often when weaning is happening too! Their little face changes with the start of their cute toothy smile! However, teething is sometimes used as a universal reason for a baby’s grumpy behaviour, so what exactly is going on and how can we help them?
How do teeth grow?
Baby teeth start to develop around week 5 of pregnancy so really early on. It is a fascinating process as the teeth develop from cells. This diagram here shows the different layers that make up a tooth. Baby teeth generally have thinner enamel which is why it’s important to look after them well to prevent tooth decay.
What is teething?
The term’ teething’ generally refers to the signs and symptoms that may occur when the milk or ‘primary’ set of teeth are appearing. When teeth come through the gums this process is known as ‘tooth eruption’ which sounds dramatic! This is a natural process and the tooth doesn’t actually ‘cut’ through the gum. It’s a combination of factors that remodel the bone and soft tissue to form an eruption pathway. Once the top part (or ‘crown’) of the tooth is in the mouth the root continues to grow underneath the gum for several months.
When does it happen?
The average time for a baby’s first tooth to start erupting is around 6 months. As with lots of milestones though there is variation – some babies will get teeth appearing earlier, some later by a few months. Sometimes babies can even be born with a tooth! Teeth normally come in pairs on the right and left sides. This teething chart shows the order and the average age for teething. There are 20 teeth in the primary baby set and it’s around age 2 1/2 when the last back molar teeth come through.
What signs might my baby have?
It is important to say that teething symptoms vary from baby to baby and even tooth to tooth. Often teeth will appear and the baby has not shown any signs at all. Teething is a normal process and it coincides with a time when baby’s immune system is evolving. They are prone to picking up common colds and childhood illnesses through socialising, so there is sometimes an overlap in symptoms. If you think your child is unwell and seems in significant discomfort or has a high fever that is not resolving please seek medical advice.
Features commonly associated with teething include;
- Increased chewing
- Increased drooling
- Disturbed sleep
- Change in eating habits
- Flushed or rosy cheeks
- Facial rash
- Ear pulling
- Changes in stools
- Inflamed gums
Remember your baby may have a combination of these or none at all. One study found the symptoms can peak around 4 days before a tooth erupts and last up to 3 days afterwards.
How can I help my teething baby?
So teething is a tricky area to research and provide evidence. Especially as babies can’t tell us how they feel or what they need! Generally there are 3 approaches that can help;
🌟 Soothe – cool items applied to the gums can ease inflammation. This could be cooled teething toys or frozen foods such as fruit slices (pineapple, watermelon) or plain yoghurt popsicles. If baby has a dummy this could be chilled too. Although useful for pacifying very young babies we do advise that in terms of healthy tooth and jaw development it is best to try and discontinue a dummy habit by age 1.
🌟 Distraction – application of gentle counter pressure can provide relief from teething. Again this could be from silicone BPA free teething toys (which are preferred to fluid filled rings as they may leak). Teethers often have little raised bobbles that massage the gums. Another choice is a natural teething biscuit by Bickiepegs. These are dairy free and made using natural ingredients with no added sugar or salt. Their shape is designed to reach the front and back of the mouth. Chewing on the firm biscuits (under supervision) promotes jaw and muscle development as well as helping ease teething pain.
🌟 Comfort – don’t underestimate the magic of parental reassurance. There’s nothing like a good cuddle. Physical comforting can produce oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin which are natural mood boosters. Babies can also find comfort and distraction in their favourite toys, books and activities.
If your baby is drooling more try and wipe it away so it doesn’t irritate their delicate skin. Finally if you feel it is needed then systemic pain relieving medication can be given. Sugar free liquid paracetamol is the medicine of choice with dose appropriate to baby’s age.