Photo: @Ciamass via Instagram
It’s pretty cute when your baby’s pearly whites start to poke through her gums. But teething can also cause crankiness, which is decidedly less adorable when you remember 20 primary teeth in total eventually emerge. Yikes.
Shawna Batten, a mom of two in Wainwright, Alta., noticed her son Rylan’s first tooth when he was four months old. He had all the classic symptoms: irritability, drooling, chewing on everything and waking multiple times per night. “He was always working on two teeth or more,” Batten recalls. “He never got a break.” By age one, Rylan had 16 teeth and two tired parents.
Because everyone has an opinion, we asked the teething experts to separate fact from fiction.
Many parents report that teething and fevers coincide. Teething does cause irritation and inflammation of the gums, and inflammation anywhere can cause a slight increase in body temperature, says Carly Brown, a dentist at Village Lane Dental in Okotoks, Alta. But it would be incorrect to say teething causes a fever. A recent paper in the medical journal Pediatrics looked at 16 different teething studies in eight countries. Researchers found that while teething is often accompanied by a slight uptick in body temperature, it seldom causes anything high enough to be considered a fever (over 38C). “Parents tend to attribute a fever to teething when it could potentially be a sign of something more serious,” says Brown.
Some parents say the beads work when body heat activates the amber to release succinic acid, which is believed to have pain-killing properties. But there is no scientific evidence to suggest the beads help, and the risks far outweigh any benefits. “There is a strangulation risk,” says Brown. “If they are pulling or trying to chew on them, they could break the beads off and choke.” Health Canada also warns against using amber teething necklaces.
It’s possible that a baby might have some ear discomfort when he’s getting his molars, but molars more commonly come in during the toddler years. (The first set arrives around 13 to 18 months, and the second set comes in when your child is two to two and a half.) Tugging on ears could just be your baby playing, or it could be a sign of an ear infection. Teething coincides with the age when babies put their hands and toys into their mouths all the time, picking up a lot more germs. (And ear infections can result from a common cold, as fluid builds up.)
Teething gels shouldn’t be used on children under two. The gels (like Orajel or Anbesol) contain the numbing agent benzocaine, which, in very rare cases, can cause a dangerous condition called methemoglobinemia. This affects the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and can be fatal. Even though some of these gels are marketed as baby products, the Canadian Dental Association recommends against using them on infants, and Health Canada says to consult a doctor for kids under two. Teething gels also pose a choking hazard. “If they swallow it, it can numb the back of the throat and interfere with swallowing and gag reflex,” says Brown. Homeopathic or “natural” teething gels should also be avoided due to allergy risk, says Sally Lloyd, a dental hygienist and owner of Lifetime Smiles Dental Hygiene Clinic in Calgary. “When young children are being exposed to things for the first time, you never know how they’re going to react to ingredients.”
“Not every child is miserable,” says Lloyd. “Sometimes parents are surprised when they look in their baby’s mouth and see teeth.”
You don’t want to try this—no matter what you’ve likely heard from an older family member (who’s probably just trying to be helpful). Giving your baby booze, even a little, is neither safe nor recommended. This home remedy seems to be generational—something you might hear from grandparents or great-grandparents, says Lloyd. “I don’t hear that from parents today,” she says. “Thank goodness!”
Nope, not according to the experts. But many parents report (and some doctors do acknowledge) that they often coincide: you might notice a rashy or red bum a day or two before or after a particularly sleepless, fussy night of teething. Officially, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not connect diaper rash or diarrhea with teething. But paediatrician William Sears believes that all that extra drool is being swallowed, and saliva in the stool results in diarrhea, which can irritate sensitive baby behinds. There’s not much you can do about this one—just slather on the diaper cream and hope for the best.
Even when teething is a challenge, all you can do is keep the long game in mind. Remember that, like most difficult kid phases, it will pass.
How to ease teething pain