If you have a fussy baby teething, you’re not alone. Most babies experience some degree of discomfort when their teeth come in. Fortunately, there are ways to help ease the pain of teething for your little one.
Here are some basic facts about teething and what you can do to help relieve your child’s discomfort.
Teething is a normal process, but it can be uncomfortable for babies. It happens when a primary (baby) tooth pushes through the gums into the baby’s mouth. Some babies seem to suffer more than others during the teething process.
Typical symptoms of teething include:
- Chewing on fingers and hard objects.
- Crying spells for no apparent reason.
- Disrupted sleeping and eating habits.
- Extra clinginess.
- General fussiness.
- Eating less than usual.
- More drooling than usual.
- Periods of irritability.
- Tender, swollen gums.
Your baby’s temperature may be slightly higher when they’re teething. But contrary to popular belief, teething does not cause a high fever. If your baby has a fever of more than 100.4 degrees, it likely has another cause.
Note: If your baby is under three months with a fever of 100.4 degrees or more, you should call the doctor immediately.
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How Long Does Teething Last?
Teething can start as early as 3 months or as late as 12 months. Most babies start teething at around 6 months.
The two front bottom teeth (the central incisors) are usually the first to appear. Then come the four upper front teeth (the central and lateral incisors). Then, two lateral incisors emerge on either side of the two bottom teeth.
Later, molars and eyeteeth emerge from the gums. The timeline can vary from child to child. But most children have all 20 primary teeth by their third birthday.
Teething symptoms may come and go. They usually begin a few days before the tooth appears. They typically disappear once the tooth breaks through the gum.
When you’re trying to comfort a fussy baby, it may seem like teething lasts forever. But try to keep in mind that this is truly a short period in your baby’s life.
Treatment for Teething
For some babies, the teething process is relatively pain-free. Most babies experience some level of discomfort when teething.
Here are some ways to ease your baby’s teething pain at home.
A sturdy teether can give your baby something safe to chew on. When your baby bites down on a teether, the pressure on their gums helps relieve discomfort. Cool a teething ring in the fridge, but don’t freeze it (it could get too hard and harm the baby’s gums).
Look for teething rings made of solid rubber with no loose parts. Avoid teething toys filled with liquid (they could get punctured, and your baby could swallow them). Likewise, don’t let your baby chew on plastic toys that could break.
The best (and easiest) teething treatment is sometimes your own finger. Wash your hands and lightly massage your baby’s gums with a clean finger or knuckle. Or, use a small cool spoon or a moist gauze pad to rub their gums gently.
A cold washcloth
A cold washcloth is one trick many parents swear by: wet a clean washcloth, twist it, and freeze it. You can tie one end in a knot to give your baby something solid to gnaw on. It will thaw quickly as your baby chews on it.
The cold from the washcloth helps numb your baby’s gums. Chewing on it eases the ache and swelling that comes with teething.
Parents often want to know: Can I give my baby Tylenol for teething?
It depends on their age. Doctors usually only suggest acetaminophen (Tylenol) for babies over 3 months old. But you should always check with your pediatrician before giving your baby pain relief medicine.
You shouldn’t give ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to babies under 6 months old. And you should never give aspirin to children of any age.
If your baby is old enough and teething is interrupting their sleep or eating, ask your child’s doctor about pain relief options.
A little extra TLC
Giving your baby some extra cuddles and lap time is fine when they’re teething. Skin-to-skin contact can be especially comforting for your fussy baby. Rocking, walking, singing, or reading a book out loud may distract your teething baby.
But stick to your baby’s usual nap and bedtime routine as much as possible. Breaking away from an established pattern because of teething can lead to sleep problems.
There are many myths about how to ease teething pain. Here are some things you shouldn’t do.
Use over-the-counter teething gels or liquids.
Pain relievers you rub on baby’s gums do not always work. The drool from a teething baby quickly washes away the medicine. Also, teething gels can numb the back of the throat, making it hard for your baby to swallow.
You should never give your child a numbing cream or gel that contains benzocaine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against using these products. They can lead to methemoglobinemia, a serious, sometimes fatal, condition where red blood cells can’t carry the right amount of oxygen.
Give your baby teething necklaces
In recent years, companies have marketed “teething jewelry” for a baby or adult. These products are amber, wood, marble, or silicone. Teething jewelry isn’t the same as a teething ring made of hard rubber, which is fine for babies.
A piece of jewelry could break and injure your child’s mouth, irritating or even piercing the gum. Other risks of using teething jewelry include choking, strangulation, and infection.
Put whiskey (or any kind of alcohol) on their gums
This is a persistent myth that parents still hear, often from older relatives. Your grandparents may insist that a dab of whiskey numbs the gums and won’t hurt the baby. But no amount of alcohol is ever safe for babies.
Use homeopathic teething tablets
These products are not scientifically tested. According to the FDA, they may include inconsistent amounts of belladonna, a toxic substance that may cause seizures or difficulty breathing.
FDA, Safely Soothing Teething Pain and Sensory Needs in Babies and Older Children, Link
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, In the News: Homeopathic Teething Gels and Tablets, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, Baby Teething Pain, Link
American Dental Association, Teething, Link
Kidshealth.org, Teething Tots, Link
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Easing Baby's Teething Pain, Link
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.