The truth about teething

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Teething is a natural process, and it doesn’t hurt that much. Ask any 7 year old getting their molars what it feels like. Some want to bite their fingers a bit, others haven’t noticed they have four new teeth. When puppies teethe they chew up a few slippers and slops or the odd garden bench (well our German Shepherd did) and that's that.

What are the symptoms of teething?

The main symptom of teething is the arrival of a tooth. Some babies do fuss and show signs of discomfort for a few days and nights before it arrives and may chew on fingers and toys more, but that’s it really. 

Most babies don’t have gums that "itch" for months on end, temperatures and runny tummies are more often caused by illness from a virus or bacteria - it may be just a coincidence if they happen as a tooth arrives. Runny noses are also known as colds and neither runny noses nor sore throats are usually caused by the arrival of teeth.

If baby is battling to settle and you can see the gum swelling up as a tooth pushes through, that is the time it does hurt, and for those who give mild pain killers, that is the time to do it. There are also some excellent gels with local anaesthetics (though do go lightly with products containing benzocaine, and also, a numb tongue can make breastfeeding difficult). 

Babies feel with their mouths so they’re putting everything they touch in there anyway, but giving them rubber rings or cold face cloths to chew on does give a nice feeling of reverse pressure on the gums as the teeth pop through. 

Your mother-in-law might not be right


Your mother-in-law insists she dabbed brandy onto your husband’s gums. I’m not comfortable giving my children alcohol. I’d be a bit worried about kidney or liver damage or giving them a taste for alcohol.  

Others might suggest aspirin. If a child has a viral illness and gets given aspirin, they can develop Reyes syndrome.  It is rare, but it is dangerous. As most of what people assume are teething symptoms are in reality illness, often viral illness, it is best not to take a chance. It is usually advised that aspirin isn't given to children or young teenagers. 

From old wives tales to modern myths

It is fashionable in some circles to use "Baltic Amber Teething Necklaces". This resin (hardened tree sap) supposedly releases succinic acid, which is meant to treat inflammation. How exactly does a solid bead release this substance? Before modern medicines, amber resin was pulverised and distilled to ease aches and pains. If it was that effective it would have become medicine but it hasn’t. It does have some pharmaceutical use and is on rare occasions used in effervescent tablets to control acidity. In food, it is used as a sweetener. Another way it is created is as a by product of fermentation of sugar, so it gets used in beer and wine. It is also released when the resin is heated above 200 degrees Celsius - which is much higher than a normal body temperature of around 37 degrees. Succinic acid has been known to cause skin irritation in some. 

Would you put any other items that could strangle your baby around their neck? A tie? A silver necklace? Leave the curtain or blind cords accessible? Why then a necklace full of beads? The beads might all have knots next to them so that at most one can fall off at a time if the necklace breaks, but it just takes one to be inhaled into their lungs or to lodge in their throat. These safety concerns are the other reasons I wouldn’t use an amber teething necklace. 

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Is teething a natural process or an illness needing treatment with beads or medicine?
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