What is teething?
Teething occurs when the milk (or baby teeth) come through the gums. It is a normal part of development.
Although the milk teeth develop when the baby is growing in the womb, the teeth only start to grow throughout the gums when the baby is six to nine months old (although it can be before or after these ages). When the teeth grow, special chemicals are released by the body which causes part of the gums to separate and so allow the teeth to grow through.
The teeth grow throughout the gums in stages. Usually the lower front teeth come through first, followed by the top middle teeth. Other teeth follow over the ensuing months. A child is usually aged around two and a half or three when they have their full set of first teeth.
What are the most common symptoms of teething?
Babies and children can vary greatly with the symptoms they can have when they are teething. For many babies, teething leads to mild symptoms that just last a few days. However, for others, teething is painful and can last much longer.
Symptoms of teething often occur a few days (or even weeks) before the tooth comes through the gum. Common symptoms and signs include:
- Red and swollen gums.
- Red flushed cheek or face.
- Rubbing their ears on the same side as the tooth which is coming through.
- Dribbling more than usual.
- Waking more at night and generally being more unsettled.
- Inconsistent feeding.
- Rubbing their gums, biting, chewing or sucking more.
There is controversy as to whether a mild fever (temperature) and mild diarrhoea occur in a minority of babies who are teething. If these symptoms occur, although they may be due to teething, they are more likely to be due to another cause such as an infection.
What is certain though is that teething should not cause your child to become unwell. If your baby or child has fever, diarrhoea or other symptoms and is unwell then you should see your doctor to check for another cause of their symptoms. (For example, an ear infection, chest infection or urinary infection.)
Treatment for teething
Many babies and children will have minimal or no symptoms when they are teething so will therefore not need any treatment.
However, the following may be useful for those who are having symptoms:
Gently rubbing over the affected gum with your clean finger may ease the pain. Many children find that biting on a clean and cool object is soothing (for example, a chilled teething ring). Chewing on chilled fruit or vegetables may help. However, teething biscuits (or rusks) should be avoided as they contain sugar.
Medicine to help the pain
If your child is in pain with his/her teething, then giving paracetamol or ibuprofen may help. These should be given at the recommended doses for their age.
There is no evidence that complementary treatments are of any benefit for teething. For example, herbal teething powder.
There are teething gels available which contain a local anaesthetic or mild antiseptic (for example, Bonjela®). These are thought to be safe to use in children and may provide some relief. These should be applied with a clean finger and the instructions in the pack should be followed.
There is no evidence that using gels which contain choline salicylate are of any benefit for teething. In addition, there is a risk of the salicylate leading to a liver condition, called Reye’s syndrome, in children (aged under 16 years). So, gels which contain choline salicylate should be avoided.
References and Disclaimer | Provide feedback
- Teething, Clinical Knowledge Summaries (November 2009)
- Sarrell EM, Horev Z, Cohen Z, et al; Parents’ and medical personnel’s beliefs about infant teething. Patient Educ Couns. 2005 Apr;57(1):122-5. [abstract]
- Owais AI, Zawaideh F, Bataineh O; Challenging parents’ myths regarding their children’s teething. Int J Dent Hyg. 2010 Feb;8(1):28-34. [abstract]
- Jordan L; Could homeopathic medicine be utilised as a treatment for teething? Aust J Holist Nurs. 2005 Apr;12(1):35-9. [abstract]
- McIntyre GT, McIntyre GM; Teething troubles? Br Dent J. 2002 Mar 9;192(5):251-5. [abstract]