The truth about teething

Learn what's going on in your baby's mouth from signs and symptoms to myths and easing discomfort.

By: Sanford Health News .

Baby chewing on teething toy
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Teething is often blamed for a baby’s fussiness, but is it the cause? Dr. Aaron Van Ningen, a pediatrician at the Sanford Children’s North Clinic in Bismarck, North Dakota discusses what’s going on in your baby’s mouth.

What is teething?

It’s a normal developmental stage for your baby and involves the process of teeth growing and then breaking through the gums. Teeth begin to develop in the womb — tooth buds form in the gums. Once developed, they break through the gums, which can take months. Most often the bottom middle teeth break through first, followed by the four upper middle teeth.

At what age do teeth begin to break through the gums?

Usually the first teeth begin to break through the gums between the ages of 5 to 7 months; however, this can happen earlier or later. In fact, a baby can be born with one to two teeth, though rare. By 30 months old — or two and a half years — all 20 baby teeth are usually present.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Increased drooling — drooling may start at three or four months of age and is not always a sign
  • Placing fingers or fists in the mouth constantly
  • Swollen or puffy area on the gums

What are some false symptoms?

Colds, rashes, diarrhea or fever are not caused by teething but can make your baby uncomfortable. Teething does not increase a baby’s risk of getting sick, nor should crying increase. When a fever is associated with teething, necessary medical attention for an infection, such as an ear infection or urinary tract infection, can be delayed.

The loss of antibodies transferred to baby from a mother at the time of birth occurs at around six to 12 months of age, increasing a baby’s risk of infection. The developmental milestone of chewing on everything also begins.

If your baby is teething and becomes sick or appears more fussy than usual, symptoms should be evaluated independent of teething. Contact your baby’s health care provider for advice.

How can you help your child with discomfort?

If your baby shows symptoms of discomfort, you can:

  • Apply something cold to the gums to soothe and numb. Avoid freezing toys or rings, which can harm or damage your baby’s gums.
  • Provide your baby something to chew on such as hard rubber toys, teething rings or cold teething toys.
  • Rub your baby’s gums with your clean finger.
  • Teething gels quickly wash off from excess drooling and may not be helpful.

Ask your baby’s health care provider about pain-relieving medicine.