A friend’s baby had the scariest looking teething experience I have ever seen. He had gums smeared with blood and gore as four teeth popped through simultaneously. It made even my steel stomach jump. Thankfully it was short-lived, and he was a happy baby despite the gore.
In the 1800s, some people believed teething could cause death. I suspect it was the treatment of teething (lancing the gums, applying leeches, cauterizing the back of a baby’s head) that was the real cause of death. There were teething powders made with mercury and teething toys made with animal bones (believed to bring the animal’s strength to fight off the pain). Today we continue to have some misconceptions about teething, so I wanted to share some facts and myths with you.
Facts about Teething
- Teething starts between 4 and 12 months and typically ends by two years of age.
- Teething can cause increased biting, drooling, gum-rubbing, sucking, irritability, wakefulness, ear-rubbing, facial rash, decreased appetite for solid foods, and mild temperature elevation.
- Teething usually starts with the upper or lower central incisors (middle two teeth). After that, the pattern and frequency of new teeth are variable.
- Teething does NOT cause significant fever (>102 Fahrenheit), congestion, cough, ear infections, vomiting, or diarrhea. Bacteria or viruses more likely to cause these symptoms, and you should call your baby’s doctor if you are concerned.
Treatments NOT recommended:
The FDA does not regulate homeopathic teething tabs. Therefore, they have no standardized testing methods to prove that they are produced safely or contain the ingredients listed on the box.
None of these tabs have ever been able to show any documented benefit in teething babies. Many of them contain belladonna, a substance known to have many toxic side effects, including constipation, agitation, and drowsiness. Please read more about the topic in this Q & A section by the FDA.
Teething gels have topical anesthetics like benzocaine. Rubbing it on the gums will only numb the area directly applied, but it will do nothing for the tissue underneath that is actually in direct contact with the developing tooth. These anesthetics are also not risk-free and can cause a rare but sometimes deadly condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the bloodstream is significantly reduced. Please read more about this on the FDA’s website.
Amber necklaces. These are very reminiscent of the animal bone toys used in the 1800s. They do not help with teething pain and pose very real suffocation, strangulation, and choking hazard to your infant.
What can you do:
Teething, like crying, is a normal developmental process for infants. There are helpful tips to try, but the only cure is time.
The safest options are cold, clean washcloths for chewing (you can even put them in the freezer for a few minutes for extra soothing), teething rings chilled in the fridge (not freezer), or frozen fruit in a choke free food feeder (once he is over four months old).
Massaging his gums and letting him chew on his own hands will also help. We also used acetaminophen for the roughest nights of teething. Just check the dosing with your baby’s doctor.