How to tell if your baby is teething
They don’t call them teething problems for nothing, and cutting those all-important milk teeth can be tough on everyone. Here’s what to look out for as your baby makes the switch from gummy grin to toothy smile.
Babies usually get their first tooth around six months, but it can start to make its presence felt long before you see it. In fact, teething symptoms can often precede the tooth finally erupting (the technical term) by up to 12 weeks – ouch! A baby’s teeth begin developing in the womb, when tooth buds form in their gums; once they start appearing the whole process will play out, on and off, over a two-year period. This means your toddler should have a full set of 20 new gnashers by their third birthday.
What are the signs of teething?
Some babies teethe relatively easily, while others can have a more ‘troublesome’ experience. It’s likely that your baby will experience an ever-changing combination of these classic symptoms, and there are little things you can do to ease their discomfort.
Teething triggers the production of excess saliva resulting in a lot of escaping drool that can soak clothing and make baby feel very uncomfortable. While there are specific ‘teething bandanas’ on the market, a regular, waterproof-backed bib works just as well.
Unsurprisingly a baby’s gums are super-sensitive at this time. ‘What happens is that the gums remodel, moving out of the way as the tooth emerges,’ explains Dr Clay Jones, a paediatrician at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts and regular contributor to the popular website Science-Based Medicine (sciencebased medicine.org). Applying counter pressure by gently massaging their gums with a clean finger is a great way to provide comfort – and explains why teething babies want to put everything in their mouth and chomp on it.
Teething babies frequently have sore, red skin at the base of their thumbs and on the heels of their hands, caused by sucking and gnawing here. You can help protect this area from chapping by slathering on a good barrier cream such as Vaseline – especially before their naps and bedtime, or if you’re heading out into the cold.
It’s really common for a baby to pull at their ears or rub their cheek, especially on the side that a tooth is breaking through. Experts believe this is because pain from their jaw is transferred to their ear canal. However, excessive tugging could also be the sign of an ear infection and it’s always best to get this checked by your doctor.
Flushed face and fever
A low-grade fever and corresponding flushed cheeks often accompany the emergence of a tooth. If this is caused by teething alone then your baby’s temperature should reach no more than 38 degrees. If it goes above this or the raised temperature lasts longer than three days, it’s important to see your doctor in order to rule out infection – all of that chewing and sucking on everything in sight does put your baby at an increased risk of ingesting nasty bugs and bacteria.
Pain, hunger, disturbed sleep and general confusion about what is happening in their tiny mouths will make even the most placid baby furious at some point during the process. Try to make them as comfortable as possible by controlling the things within your power – feeds, nappies, temperature etc. And even though they might squirm and push against you at times, never underestimate how soothing a good old-fashioned snuggle can be.
Changes in feeding, rejecting solid food, disturbed sleep, a sore bottom and chapped skin can also be common symptoms of teething, but it’s worth monitoring your baby if they seem out of sorts. Everyday health problems, infections and more serious issues can sometimes be put down to teething when a baby might need treatment instead. Doctors stress that if your baby has a fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and/or is inconsolable, err on the side of caution and visit your GP or local A&E department.