Here’s everything you need to know about teething, including symptoms and pain relief options. By Thobeka Phanyeko
The appearance of your baby’s first tooth is one of the most exciting milestones. But it’s important not to compare your little one to his peers because not all babies get their teeth at the same time.
With teething comes uncertainty. Your baby may exhibit a variety of symptoms and it’s not easy to pinpoint their cause. Our experts answer some of your niggling questions to put your mind at ease.
When does teething start?
You can expect to see the first tooth emerge at around seven months. Your baby will grow 19 teeth between the ages of seven and 24 months.
It’s not unusual for babies to be born with a natal tooth. Cape Town-based dentist Dr Jolandie Engelbrecht explains that although all 20 of a baby’s primary teeth are almost completely formed at birth, they are hidden in the infant’s jawbone. “A natal tooth’s root structure is underdeveloped, so it is usually loose and can easily be removed if it’s causing problems with breastfeeding or ulcers on the baby’s tongue. In general, they are left to fall out on their own,” she says.
- Sometimes your baby’s first tooth might not have come through before his first birthday. But this is nothing to worry about:
- “A small percentage of babies only get their first teeth after 12 months. If your child is healthy and thriving, you can wait a bit longer for the teeth to erupt before you get concerned,” says paediatrician Dr Geetesh Vala.
- But if your little one’s teeth haven’t come through by 16 months, it’s best to take him for a visit to the dentist.
ALSO SEE: Track your little one’s teething with this teething chart.
Does every child experience teething pain?
According to Johannesburg-based paediatrician Dr Deon Smith, only 10–15% of children experience major discomfort during teething. “There’s a huge hype around teething. Parents are terrified at the prospect, but more often than not it’s a non-event.”
Dr Smith explains that your baby will be teething throughout his early developmental stages, so it’s not unusual for parents to confuse growing pains with teething. He advises parents and caregivers to be cautious as some symptoms associated with teething could point to a more serious problem.
“It’s normal for your baby to have a high temperature of between 37 and 37.4°C, but anything over 38°C requires medical attention,” he says. Vomiting and a watery stool are also unusual symptoms. “You can expect the stool to be looser than normal, but not watery,” he adds. Wheezing should also not be dismissed as just another teething symptom. A decrease in appetite may be normal, but a complete hunger strike is cause for concern.
Dr Clay Jones, a paediatrician in the US writes on sciencebasedmedicine.org that first teeth grow in over a period of about two years, with one tooth appearing each month. This means the likelihood of your child being exposed to a number of illnesses during this time is high. Before the late 19th century, when little was known about the true causes of illnesses, teething was blamed for various symptoms, and many of these beliefs still persist.
How do I care for my baby’s teeth?
Cape Town dentist Dr Marie-Louise Weber suggests cleaning your baby’s gums before any teeth appear. “Wrap your finger in a clean, damp facecloth or cotton gauze and gently rub your child’s gums.” Brushing becomes essential as soon as the first tooth has erupted. “Toothpaste isn’t necessary,” says Dr Engelbrecht, but if you would like to use it, Dr Smith assures that the fluoride used in kids’ toothpaste is low, so you don’t have to worry about your little one swallowing it. Our experts recommend starting your baby’s dental visits by the age of two. “The dentist will monitor your child’s dental growth and development, and teach your child how to maintain proper oral hygiene,” explains Dr Weber. It’s important that your child’s initial dentist visits are pleasant.
- Excessive drooling from seven months
- Biting more than usual
- A fever of 37 to 37.4°C
- A rash around the mouth
- Nappy rash
- Sleep disturbance
- A decreased appetite
- Red, bulging, sore gums before tooth emerges
- Gum haematoma (bleeding under the gums)
- Unusually irritable and niggly
- Runny nose.
How do I deal with drooling?
There’s not much you can do about drool, but it can cause a rash on your baby’s neck area. It’s important to keep the area dry, so Dr Smith recommends applying a barrier cream and changing your baby’s bib as often as possible.
What can I use to ease teething discomfort?
- Symptomatic treatment like pain and fever medication.
- Teething gel.
- For diarrhoea, keep your little one hydrated and offer smaller, more frequent, feeds.
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.