Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, educator, and blogger at Healthy at Home. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.
Teething is one of the biggest reasons for babies crying, being irritable, and generally being hard to keep happy. It’s hard to diagnose, and you can only ease the pain your infant is feeling. You cannot fix it for them or make it go away. I think it ends up breaking your heart more than anything because there’s nothing you can truly do to help.
Infants’ teeth actually start developing while they are still in the womb, as this is when their tooth buds form in their gums. After about three months old, just as they should be getting over their crying spells, and you should finally be getting to know what their different cries mean, their little teeth start breaking through one at a time over a period of years.
This process typically lasts until children are anywhere from 2-3 years old, but by then you’ll have a good handle on it. However, understanding the teething process better, knowing what to expect during teething, and how to make the process a little less painful for your little one can help you manage through the whole process easier.
What Exactly is Teething?
Teething is essentially the emergence of your little one’s baby teeth pushing through his gums. Although some babies don’t feel any pain or discomfort at all during teething, for many this can be a very painful and frustrating time for both little ones and their parents.
Babies normally start teething around 4 months old but can start developing teeth as early as the first few weeks of age, or as last as one year old. However, these cases are very rare. Teething typically stops around 3 years old, as this is when children get the last of their baby teeth. Then the whole process starts over around 6 years old when baby teeth start falling out and adult teeth start growing in. (Baby Center)
How Do I Know If My Little One is Teething?
Since your infant has been crying for probably most of her little life, the addition of crying and irritability from teething may be hard for you to specifically identify. In fact, like all good parents, you’ll likely try all the basics and change her diaper, try to feed her, try to help her fall asleep, and even hold her close to no avail. You’ll go through all of the other attempts to soothe your baby and get absolutely no results.
When you get to this point, or hopefully before that, you will start noticing some of the symptoms that tell you that your little one is teething and know how to soothe her. I think the biggest one is that as kids begin teething, they tend to drool a lot more and want to chew on things. I realize that they are already putting everything in their mouths, but this will be much more purposeful.
You may also notice biting, drooling so bad that a rash develops on their face, gum swelling and sensitivity, and chewing on their fingers. Normally the act of putting things in his mouth is just for sucking purposes and for feeling the texture in his mouth. Now that discovery will turn into chewing and biting and he attempts to relieve the pain he is feeling.
This may also turn in to a refusal of food, because it hurts when he chews or puts pressure on his gums, just like yours do when you have a cavity or sensitive teeth. The pain may keep him awake or cause other sleep problems, which may then turn into extreme irritability and fussiness.
Some researchers believe that teething can cause diarrhea and a mild diaper rash because your baby's excessive saliva ends up in his gut and loosens his stools. Inflammation of the gums may also cause a low-grade fever. (Baby Center) Many others say that a fever, diarrhea, and other serious symptoms are not caused by teething and that you should immediately call your pediatrician should you see them in your little one.
In What Order Do Baby Teeth Usually Come In?
Not every baby’s teeth come in exactly the same way. However, this is a general guide as to what teeth you can expect to see and in what order. Check the chart to the right to get a better idea of when each set of teeth tend to come in for most children.
- Two front bottom teeth (central incisors), then two front top teeth
- A single tooth on each side of the top central incisors (lateral incisors), then two on bottom
- A single tooth on each side of the top and bottom lateral incisors (canines)
- A single tooth on each side of the top and bottom canines (first molars)
- A single tooth on each side of the top and bottom first molars (second molars), likely bottom first
How Can I Ease the Pain?
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can ease the pain your baby may be feeling, whether she is one of the babies that is fussier than usual when teething, or is just simply feeling a little bit of discomfort resulting from the soreness and swelling in her gums just before one of her teeth pushes out.
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You’ll know that a tooth is about to come 2 to 3 days ahead of time and can anticipate about a week of pain before the next tooth comes in. (WebMD) Some of the best methods for making her feel better during this time are teething rings that you can place in the freezer, as the cold and being able to chew on something will help to ease her pain and frozen wet washcloths.
These tend to feel better as they have a little give, the cold numbs the pain, and they are normally handy. Some people don’t have teething rings just lying around. Simply rubbing your clean finger gently but firmly over her gums can ease the pain temporarily, too. For babies over a year old, some nice cold applesauce or yogurt may do the trick, and many kids also like frozen fruits like blueberries and peaches.
This is about the time you’ll probably notice your little one doing things like chewing on the plastic bumper on his crib rail or chewing on other strange items just to get a little relief. The gumming and chewing he is doing actually provides counter pressure on his growing teeth, which relieves the aching he is feeling from his teeth pushing through.
You can also give your little one frozen fruit, like bananas and peaches, with the use of a baby mesh feeder. This simply looks like a pacifier with a bag on the end. It holds the fruit inside of the bag so that babies can get the relief and nutrient from the fruit without large chunks of fruit coming off and becoming a choking risk. (What to Expect)
If none of these methods are working for you, your pediatrician may recommend giving him a small dose of infant’s or children's pain reliever, but check with him first before giving your little one any medication.
Helping Your Toddler to Feel Better
- Frozen washcloth
- Cold teething ring
- Refrigerated pacifier
- Cold drink
- Frozen fruit
- Rubbing with finger
- Frozen veggies
- Frozen bagels
- Infant/toddler painkillers
Taking Care of Your Baby’s New Teeth
Despite the size of your new baby’s little teeth and the sheer lack of destructive foods that he or she is eating, good dental care for your little one’s teeth should start from the very beginning before the very first teeth even arrive, to prevent infection and give your baby the very best chance at healthy teeth.
In fact, by “brushing” her teeth now before they even push out, you’ll get her used to having her teeth brushed, and this will help to develop a regular habit that she can continue later on her own. You can begin as early as 1 or 2 months old, and can start by simply rubbing a wet washcloth, or even better, a wet infant toothbrush, over her gums really lightly.
When he starts teething, this will be a great way to massage his gums a couple of times a day and give his some relief from the aching of his teeth pushing through. When his first teeth starting actually showing up, you will already be in the habit of brushing a couple of times a day (especially after meals). At this point, you should only be using the toothbrush and water.
Toothpaste use shouldn’t start until your child is around 3 or 4 years old and he can swish and spit on his own. Swallowing toothpaste can be dangerous for your child. They should not be left alone with it and should be taught how to use it when you buy it. And at that time, you should make sure and choose a children’s toothpaste with fluoride.
When your child starts brushing their own teeth with toothpaste, only let them use a pea-sized amount, or even less, on their toothbrushes, until they learn to use it responsibly. You should begin taking your little one to a dentist around their first birthday, or when they have at least a few teeth. This way they can spot any potential problems from the very start and can give you any dental advice you may need.
While we’re on the topic of tooth care, there are a few last suggestions that you will want to consider that have nothing to do with brushing their teeth. If your child sucks her thumb or on a pacifier, you will want to break this habit around six months old when their first teeth are really starting to come in so that their developing mouths and growing teeth are not affected by the object in their mouths.
Up until six months old, this is perfectly safe, but after about six months, your dentist will even suggest that this habit be stopped. Another big dental no-no is allowing your child to go to sleep with a bottle in his mouth. The juice or milk in the bottle will then be sitting on your child’s teeth and/or pooling in his mouth all night and will cause plaque and early tooth decay. This is just as important as brushing their little teeth. (Kids’ Health)
What If Something Happens to My Child’s Teeth?
Many parents have concerns about their children’s teeth. What if they’re not coming in as expected? What if my baby loses a baby tooth because of an injury or an accident? Even worse, what if she has a double row of teeth coming in?
As bad as many of these things sound, they are all perfectly normal in childhood. Babies and toddlers grow at different speeds and in different ways. Where some little ones are born with teeth (but this is VERY rare), some don’t get any teeth at all until after a year (rare, but it happens).
For little ones to get their baby teeth at all different ages and stages is perfectly normal. I would say that if your child still has no teeth at 6 months, though, you might want to go check with a children’s dentist for his thoughts.
As babies learn to crawl and learn to walk, it’s common for them to bump into walls, fall on the floor, or even run into tables. Many babies even lose or chip a tooth when chewing on various toys and other objects as babies do. If they lose a tooth, they may look funny for a little while, but the good news is that it will not be permanent.
This problem will be fixed as the baby teeth start falling out anyway and their adult teeth begin growing in. The same goes for chips, rotten teeth, or other cosmetic problems that may happen to your child’s teeth. If for some reason you are concerned about it, or don’t like the way it looks, your dentist can easily give it a temporary fix so that it looks normal until it’s time for them to fall out on their own, but this may cost a pretty penny.
And as for double rows, buck teeth, over or under bites, or anything else that may be happening with your children’s teeth, your dentist will likely have tons of great ideas and suggestions for you. However, when it’s time for the baby teeth to fall out and the adult teeth to come in, most of these problems will fix themselves.
For more serious problems with their teeth, I’m sorry to say that you will probably be advised to wait, by your dentist, until your child’s mouth has stopped developing to do more permanent fixes like braces, retainers, surgery, or replacement teeth.
Just like everything else parents worry about, there are very good reasons. However, one good thing about babies and their teeth is that just that; they’re babies and they’re just baby teeth.
This is a big time in your children’s life. Not only is teething painful and annoying, but it’s wonderful watching each of their little teeth grow in one at a time. Just like any other momentous time in your little one’s life, like rolling over, crawling, saying their first word, or even walking, this is also the time to begin taking the necessary precautions to keep them safe.
Take care, not only to ease their pain and therefore yours as well, but to keep their gums healthy and their teeth sparkling white from the very beginning. The small amount of time you take now to set up habits and routines in your child’s life will pay off in the long run.
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- What is the average age for babies to get their first teeth?
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
- 1 year
- 3 months
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Victoria Van Ness
Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on February 24, 2015:
Thank you for the mention. I have. Obviously every parent will have to decide what is best for their baby and their family. However, you might want to look at some of the websites I sited for more information on that topic. :)
Caryn Anderson on September 18, 2014:
Interesting article. My daughter, thankfully didn't have pain with teething, she just drooled a horrible amount. My friends daughter had a ton of pain. The only thing she found to work was an amber necklace. I found this to be a good article until you mentioned using fluoride toothpaste. Have you ever done any research on fluoride in your toothpaste, I mean real research beyond with the Commercials say? Have you ever done any research in fluoride in your drinking water?