As I watch my five-week-old daughter (thankfully) sleep peacefully, I’m silently dreading the painful cries and discomfort that are just a few months down the road. Unfortunately, they will be cries she can sink her new teeth into.
Alas, the beauty of baby teeth comes with a rough caveat: There will likely be screams, tears and my own fears of feeling helpless to ease her pain. The teething process can be extremely tough on infants, leading to tender and puffy gums.
I’m no fool, I know there will be drool, but how can I as a nervous rookie parent help my daughter weather the rocky road of teething? The first key is knowing when the teething process truly begins and what infant cries and sucking and biting tendencies are just the natural growing pains of babyhood. Beware false teething alarms.
“What many parents think of as teething is just a baby’s increased desire to suck and bite that occurs as a normal developmental stage around 3-4 months,” San Francisco pediatrician Karen Gill told Healthline.com. “While teeth can erupt this early, the common age is 6 to 9 months. Pain from teething likely only comes when the teeth are breaking through the gums and can be seen and felt.”
When teething does set in, the symptoms will be numerous: Immense pain, swelling, discomfort, and potentially long cries. So how can nervous parents turn the thermostat down on their babies’ teething fever?
- Ice is a teething baby’s best friend: Just like ice numbs the pain and reduces swelling on sprained ankles, cold compresses and helps sooth sore gums. Put a wet washcloth in a clean plastic bag and chill it in the refrigerator. When painkiller ready, remove the washcloth from the bag and let your child munch on it. The fabric will massage the ridges in her gums while the cold numbs the pain.
- Pacifying magic: A refrigerated pacifier or teether also is a great massager. A note of caution: Never store the teether in the freezer because it can damage a baby’s gums. Stores offer a variety of refrigerated teethers, included liquid-filled teethers and vibrating teethers. If your baby does not like cold items, chewing on a teether at room temperature may do the trick.
- Pressure is a good thing: For once, putting pressure on kids is a good thing. Teething babies, as Colgate.com notes, love to feel pressure on their gums because it distracts their brain from the sensation of teething. Gently rubbing your baby’s gums with a clean pinky finger can offer sweet relief from the throbbing of teething.
- Use Teething Medicines with Caution: Over the counter numbing gels and creams can offer your babies sweet teething relief. But proceed with caution: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns topical medications containing benzocaine shouldn’t be administered to children younger than 2 without a doctor’s guidance. Remember, medication may not stay where you put it. Children can swallow medication with their saliva. This can inadvertently numb a baby’s throat and interfere with their gag reflex, making it hard for them not to choke. One risk is that the medication won’t stay where you put it. Even if you rub it directly on your baby’s gums, she might swallow some of it with her saliva. This can inadvertently numb her throat and interfere with her gag reflex, making it harder for her not to choke. In rare instances, benzocaine can cause methemoglobinemia, a serious condition in which the amount of oxygen in the blood drops dangerously low.
- If all else fails, Painkillers: If no other remedies work and your baby needs quick relief, parents can ask their doctor for an OTC painkiller like acetaminophen. Another warning: Don’t give new medicines to a baby without checking with a doctor. For babies at least 6 months old, ibuprofen is a proven option for reducing inflammation in babies’ gums. Do not use aspirin for baby’s teething pains under any circumstances.
Remember, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhea aren’t normal symptoms of teething. If your child has a steady fever or seems sick, call your pediatrician immediately.
The teething blues can leave both babies and their parents in a nervous, restless, painful panic, but knowing how to ease the trauma of baby teeth can get you both sweet relief from this important rite of baby passage.