Ouch! What to expect when your baby starts teething

(Compassionate Eye FoundationDavid Oxberry/Getty Images)
(Compassionate Eye FoundationDavid Oxberry/Getty Images)

Your baby can begin teething as early as three months, but typically teething begins between 4 and 7 months.

The first teeth to appear through the gum line are usually the bottom two front teeth, otherwise known as the central incisors. About four to eight weeks later, the four front upper teeth, the central and lateral incisors, appear.

These teeth are then followed by the two teeth flanking the bottom teeth, the first molars and then the eye teeth. By your child’s third birthday, all her primary teeth should have already made an appearance.

This set will last until she’s about six years old.

The symptoms of teething

While babies do suffer some symptoms while teething, the severity of symptoms differs according to individual babies.

It’s usually best to consult your dentist if your baby exhibits any of these signs for extended periods of time in order to rule out other serious causes:

  • Irritability
  • Drooling
  • Gum swelling and sensitivity
  • Refusing food
  • Cheek rubbing and ear-pulling
  • Problems sleeping
  • Low-grade fever
  • Diarrhoea
  • Cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose

Helping your baby with the pain

  • Wipe your baby’s face often with a damp cloth to remove all spittle and prevent rashes
  • Place a cloth under your baby’s head to catch the drool when she’s sleeping so that you don’t have to replace all the sheets in the morning
  • Give your baby something to chew on. While she’s teething her gums will be swollen and sore, a wet washcloth placed in the freezer for half an hour makes a really good teething aid.
  • If you’re using a teething ring, try not to leave it in the freezer until it becomes rock hard, as this might bruise those tender gums
  • Try rubbing your baby’s sensitive gums with a clean finger or a cold spoon
  • Apply teething medicines, such as Teejel. Remember to read the package insert to be sure of the correct dosage.

"Teething can often cause much discomfort for babies and an anti inflammatory such is nurofen can also be administered to make the child more comfortable,"advises Johannesburg based dentist Dr Suzanne Van der Linden, "but if you are concerned first contact your dentist." 

Oral care

Taking care of your baby’s first set of teeth is important for her long-term dental health. If your baby’s teeth are not taken care of properly, they might fall out prematurely and cause damage to her permanent teeth.

Dr Van der Linden explains that not taking care of baby teeth can cause cavities which can lead to discomfort when eating that may impede growth and development.

"It may also lead to abscess formation which is very painful, may lead to facial swelling which can be dangerous if it spreads further into the face and body," she told Parent24.

"Baby teeth are space maintainers for permanent teeth and early loss can lead to space loss and skew teeth and the need for braces."  

Daily dental care should begin even before your baby’s first tooth emerges. Wipe your baby’s gently gums with a damp washcloth or gauze. As soon as the first tooth appears, brush her gums and teeth with a soft infant-sized toothbrush and water.

Dr Van der Linden advises parents to wipe the front teeth with a washcloth or gauze before brushing too. "The idea is to remove plaque build from the teeth. A small smear of age appropriate toothpaste can be used," she says.

By the time all your baby’s teeth have appeared, teeth should be brushed morning and night. At night is always more important as there will be more build up during the day. Incorporate brushing during the bath time routine.  

By age 3 all the baby teeth should have erupted and probably a good idea to take the child for a dental check, says Dr Van der Linden.

"Use only half a pea size of age appropriate toothpaste, encourage spitting but swallowing some toothpaste is not the end of the world," she reassures parents.

"If you are concerned rather just put a small smear of toothpaste on the brush. As soon as the baby molars erupt (usually at about 18 months) it is important to use a fluoride toothpaste, as fluoride strengthens the baby tooth enamel which are about 75% weaker than permanent teeth," she says. 

Don’t let your baby fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth - the liquid can pool in her mouth and cause tooth decay as milk contains lots of sugar which causes the mouth to become acid which will dissolve the tooth enamel.

"As long as teeth are brushed before the last bottle there is no need to brush them again," Dr Van der Linden says.

Frequent bottle  and breastfeeding during the night after 18 months can also contribute to acid wear.

Another step you can take to prevent tooth decay is to make her last bottle of the night water.

"If the bottle needs to remain in the bed for soothing purposes this is a good idea," she says, "but generally as long as the last bottle is finished and removed from the bed it does not need to be replaced with water." 

The importance of baby teeth

Not only does your baby need these teeth for biting and chewing, but they also serve as spacers for her permanent teeth, they help in the development of her speech and are important for her self-confidence. 

If by the end of your baby’s first year, there is still no sign of a tooth, bring the matter up at her 12-month check-up.

If your baby has all the signs of teething but seems to be in an unusual amount of pain, it’s best to call your dentist for advice.

Teething need not be a painful ordeal for all concerned.


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