All babies have to go through it, but, unfortunately, teething is a common cause of temporary pain and suffering during a baby’s early stages of life. Because not every baby’s temperament is the same, babies can show a variety of signs and symptoms as they pass through the different stages of physical development. Parents often feel bad for their teething baby, anxious about when the pain will end, and curious about what they can do to help minimize their baby’s uncomfortable teething symptoms.
How do you know if your baby is in fact teething? And if they are, what can you do as a parent to help? As you’ll learn more about below, teething remedies include soothing your baby via touch or gentle massage, applying topical gels to their gums, and using herbal medicines to help dull the pain.
What Is Teething?
Teething is the common name for odontiasis, the process of teeth beginning to grow for the first time as they puncture a baby’s sensitive gums. (1) “Baby teeth” usually appear in a particular sequence, often growing in pairs. Babies actually have a set of about 20 teeth that they are born with; however, the teeth remain under the gums until the odontiasis process begins. When does teething usually occur? And which baby teeth tend to come in first?
Early teething symptoms can start at 3 months old, although most babies begin teething closer to about 4 to 8 months. (2) Beginning teething around 5 months old seems to be one of the most common times. The speed and sequence of odontiasis is believed to be mostly hereditary. This means that if a baby’s parents started teething very young, the baby will likely experience the same. There’s also some evidence that male babies may start teething slightly later than females.
Teething symptoms, such as soreness, sensitive gums and pain can start even before the baby’s teeth start pushing through their gums. What do teething gums look like? They will most likely look red, slightly raised in spots, puffy and a bit swollen. (3) If you suspect that your baby is starting to teethe, you can feel the inside of your baby’s mouth by running your finger gently along their gums. If you feel small bumps where the teeth are starting protrude into the gums, it’s very likely that your baby is in fact teething.
Typical Timeline of Baby Teething:
Here is an overview of what you can expect to happen as your baby goes through the teething process:
- The first teeth to come in are usually the “incisors,” which are the four front central teeth. Many babies will first experience teething when their two lower central incisors come in. This tends to occur around 5–6 months old. Teething symptoms might begin at around 2–3 months old if your baby’s incisor teeth start coming in early, but you likely won’t see the actual teeth appear for one to two more months.
- Between about 6–10 months it’s common for babies to have their two upper central incisors come through. Then over the following few months, normally between months 9–13, the two upper lateral incisors (located on the left and right side of the center) should come though. Once these appear the baby will have their four upper teeth.
- It’s typical for the lower lateral incisors (located on the bottom row, to the left and right of the center) to come in after the upper incisors. This usually happens between about 10–16 months.
- Molars are normally the next teeth to appear. These are four bigger teeth located at the back of the mouth. They are the last four teeth in the upper and lower rows, so there are two on the right side of the mouth and two on the left side. Later on, usually at about 20–30 months, second molars will also grow in located at the rear sides of the mouth.
- In some cases, the teeth that fill in the spaces between the center and molars, called the canine teeth, will appear last. They may start coming in between about 16–22 months.
- Most babies have their complete set of “baby teeth” by the time they are 25–33 months (between 2–3 years old).
Signs & Symptoms of Teething
Do babies get a fever when teething? Wondering if there might be a connection between teething and other symptoms your baby is experiencing, such as diarrhea or a runny nose?
While some “lucky” babies may not feel much pain at all during teething, most will display at least some signs of discomfort. It’s common for babies to be crankier during the teething process, especially since they may not be able to sleep as well due to discomfort. Once the teeth actually puncture the gums and come through, teething symptoms should stop within a couple of short weeks.
Some of the most common teething symptoms and signs include:
- Crying, especially at night or during the middle of the night (believed to be due to a lack of other stimulation/distraction).
- Red, inflamed gums and soreness in the mouth.
- Pain that appears to be spreading to other parts of the body, such as the ears, cheeks, neck or upper shoulders. Sometimes babies will pull on their ears or rub their cheeks to try and soothe the pain.
- Difficulty sleeping, which can affect their daytime schedule.
- Lack of appetite and refusal to eat. This may lead to under-eating or dehydration, which can cause symptoms like diarrhea, runny stools or indigestion. However, if your baby has more than three runny stools per day it’s likely that they are actually sick, not that teething is causing the problem.
- General irritability and moodiness.
- Increased saliva and drooling.
- The desire to bite down on anything (fingers, toys, their parents hands etc.). Many babies will try to grab objects to chew, or put anything they can get their hands on into their mouth, especially if the object is a bit hard or rubbery. This might seem counter-productive, but gnawing on objects seems to actually help relieve pressure in the gums.
- In some cases, cold-like symptoms might occur including mild coughing, runny nose, or red cheeks and ears. This can happen due to the baby putting their hands and objects into their mouth more. If these symptoms last more than two to three days, you should see a doctor to identify what’s causing the problem.
- A rash around your baby’s chin, which can look similar to eczema, due to increased drooling and touching their face
Most doctors don’t recognize fevers as a symptom of teething. If your baby appears to be sick with a fever and has a high body temperature, it’s likely for another reason. Always visit your doctor if your baby’s temperature goes above 101 degrees Fahrenheit for more than one to two days, as this indicates that they are ill.
Conventional Treatments for Teething
When your baby’s teething symptoms become very uncomfortable, your doctor might recommend giving him or her an over-the-counter pain reliever. One example is liquid acetaminophen, which can be safely given to babies in small amounts in order to manage pain for about four hours. Most experts recommend only giving your baby painkillers when it’s really necessary, usually just before they go to sleep in order to help them get better rest.
Some doctors and parents also choose to apply soothing gels to their baby’s mouth in order to decrease swelling and tenderness. Popular types of gels include Orajel™ and Anbesol®. Gels can wash off the gums somewhat quickly, so they don’t provide relief for very long. They can be helpful on bad days when your baby is really having a hard time. However, note that these products contain benzocaine. The FDA warns against using this painkiller because it can cause a rare but serious medical condition. (4)
6 Natural Remedies for Teething Symptoms
Painkillers, massage therapy, topical gels, herbal medicines and home remedies can help reduce the pain and soreness.
1. Soft, Cold Fruits & Veggies
Giving your teething baby easy-to-chew, cool fruits and veggies to gnaw or suck on is one of the best ways to keep them both hydrated and comfortable. It’s also easy to make your own baby food, ensuring your giving your child the best ingredients you can. Here are some of the most popular types to try:
- Cold yogurt
- Natural applesauce (one of the easiest to make yourself!)
- Frozen banana or pineapple. Just be sure to watch carefully that your baby doesn’t choke.
- Cold carrots, celery, avocado or cucumber.
2. Cold Washcloths, Compresses or Spoons
Experts suggest that you allow your babies to chew on something when they are teething, since this helps decrease the pressure and pain they’re feeling. (06) Give them a rubbery or wooden object that is clean and nontoxic, or better yet make it a cold object. One example of a chew toy is a wooden ring or doll that is used in Japan to soothe teething symptoms, sometimes called a kokeshi doll. To help lower swelling of your baby’s gums you can give them something cold (and clean!) to chew on, such as:
- An ice towel. A simple solution is wrapping several pieces of ice in a clean towel, tying a rubber band or knot into the towel to hold the ice, and then letting your baby suck on the towel. This way the ice melts but doesn’t become a choking hazard.
- Another similar method is dipping a clean cloth into cold water, wringing out excess water, then putting the cloth in the freezer or refrigerator for a little while to chill. Let your baby bite down on the cloth, or apply it to their cheeks and chin.
- You also can try freezing your baby’s pacifier or bottle nipple. To do this, fill a baby bottle and place in the freezer upside down, this way the water freezes at the nipple.
- Yet another option is to give your baby a very cold spoon to suck on. The coldness pressed against their gums can numb some of the pain and reduce inflammation. Place a couple of spoons in the refrigerator for several hours so you have a cold one ready when your baby needs it.
3. Amber Teething Necklaces
Amber teething necklaces, usually made from Baltic amber, are worn around a baby’s neck in order to reduce soreness and decrease pain. Amber necklaces contain an active ingredient called succinic acid, which might have a mild analgesic (numbing) effect. (7) The theory behind amber necklaces is that when the baby’s skin rubs against the necklace a small amount of the amber’s oils seeps into their skin, helping to reduce inflammation and therefore discomfort. While there’s loads of anecdotal evidence that amber necklaces are helpful, there’s not evidence showing they definitely work. So it’s ultimately up to the parents to decide if it’s worth trying or not.
Most babies tolerate amber necklaces very well, although if the necklace breaks it can be a potential choking hazard. Don’t let your baby wear the necklace when he or she is out of your sight, such as when they are sleeping alone through the night.
4. Essential Oils
Certain essential oils are very useful for keeping your baby calm, while others are helpful for reducing inflammation and easing pain. To help your baby sleep and relax when they’re feeling uncomfortable, try diffusing lavender essential oil, chamomile or vanilla oil in their bedroom.
5. Touch and Massage
It can help your baby to relax if you physically touch, gently massage, and soothe them. Distracting them with toys, games, attention or objects to play with also works to decrease their fixation on the teething pain.
While they might be uncomfortable with touching near their jaw or ears, try rubbing their back and holding them if they are having a very difficult teething day. If your baby allows, you can help reduce some of the pressure in their mouth by lightly massaging their gums, cheeks and ears. You may also want to try applying a very tiny amount of clove essential oil to their gums, which has natural numbing qualities and helps alleviate pain. In fact, before anesthesia medications were available, clove oil was used to decrease toothaches and to ease other dental problems or procedures. (8)
6. Remove Saliva After Drooling to Prevent a Rash
Sometimes babies will develop rashes on their chin while teething due to increased drooling. You can remove extra saliva with a soft cloth, helping to prevent the chin from becoming irritated or chapped. To treat your baby’s rash (whether on their face, or elsewhere such as their bottom) you can try applying natural products including coconut or almond oil, shea butter, calendula and magnesium oil.
Precautions When Your Baby is Teething
While teething can cause a range of symptoms, including cold-like symptoms or irritability, it’s still best to visit your baby’s pediatrician if symptoms persist for more than several days. Symptoms of teething can mimic those caused by other illnesses, so don’t ignore abnormal signs and symptoms your baby is displaying for long periods of time. Teething symptoms are usually not severe enough to really affect your baby’s health, so consider whether another condition is really to blame if your baby is having a really hard time.
If you do choose to give your baby a painkiller to reduce pain, do not give them products made with benzocaine or aspirin, as these are not recommended for teething babies since they may cause serious side effects in rare cases, including Reye’s syndrome. (9)
To make sure that your baby is transitioning well through the teething process, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that parents take their baby to his or her first dental exam by age 1.
Final Thoughts on Teething Symptoms & Remedies
- Teething (odontiasis) happens when a baby’s teeth puncture their sensitive gums, usually beginning between 4–8 months old.
- Teething symptoms can include increased crying, painful gums, crankiness, trouble sleeping, swollen gums and chewing on hard objects.
- Natural teething remedies include giving your baby a cold object, cloth or foods to suck on, massaging their gums, distracting them, using essential oils to keep them calm, and having them wear an amber necklace.