Here’s the 101 on helping your baby through the process (without losing your cool).
As parents quickly learn in the first sleepy weeks of caring for a newborn, babies are constantly changing. This continuous growth challenges parents to frequently adapt—often on the fly—as their little one masters tummy time, rolling over, sitting up, crawling—the list goes on.
Beyond the active, noticeable transformations, plenty is going on inside, too. During the first year of life, your baby’s brain will double in size, their weight will triple, and they will show off up to four new teeth. Although those two-front-teeth photos are super cute, the process of cutting pearly whites isn’t fun for your child, or for you. Fits of fussiness and obvious discomfort make it difficult to know how to soothe your child.
We spoke with Denver-based pediatric dentists to find out how to best support your babe while they’re teething.
When Does Teething Start?
When your baby gives you that first toothless grin, it melts your heart. But around six months, you might notice a little white dot peeking through your baby’s gum. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman, DMD, MS, a pediatric dentist at Wash Park Pediatric Dentistry, says that while every child is developmentally different, most babies’ first teeth are usually in the upper or lower front area of their gums. “There are a lot of variations in teething patterns,” he adds. “Parents should not be overly concerned if their child gets a tooth out of sequence or not exactly as expected.”
Though the first tooth can come in as early as six months, parents will notice teeth continuing to sprout up until 24 to 30 months, Bowman says.
If parents are worried that their child is behind, they should seek the advice of an expert, says Dr. Bradley Smith, a pediatric dentist at Southmoor Pediatric Dentistry. Typically, he says, dentists won’t jump to x-rays to check on teeth because they don’t want to expose toddlers to radiation unnecessarily. Remember that your kiddo is on their own timeline and will begin teething when their body is ready. One important thing to note is that baby teeth and adult teeth follow the same track. In other words, Smith says if baby teeth come early, the permanent teeth will likely come early. If the baby teeth come late, the permanent teeth will likely come late.
What Are the First Signs of Teething?
When your little one starts teething, you might think they had a rough night or that they woke up on the wrong side of the crib. However, Bowman says that if this irritability and fussiness are paired with drooling and rosy cheeks, it could signal that your baby is beginning to cut teeth. Many babies will go through restless sleep with more crying fits than normal, primarily due to their sore gums. Also, teeth stimulate and promote saliva, so extra dribble is expected. You might also notice some bleeding if you are brushing your baby’s gums. As Bowman explains, this is due to tooth eruption and bacteria building up around the gum tissue where the tooth is pushing through.
Remember, it is very common for a child to have their hand in their mouth while teething. As a result, Bowman says many babies will pick up secondary viral infections. “While there is not a direct cause-and-effect relationship, many kiddos do have fevers while teething,” he says. “The fever is not caused by teething but rather a side effect of putting objects in the mouth, and therefore, they pick up a run-of-the-mill cold or viral infection.”
How Can You Help Your Baby While Teething?
As a parent, it’s in your DNA to want to help soothe your child anytime they’re in pain. Whether it’s doing bicycles with their legs to pass gas, rocking them to sleep when they’re feeling clingy, or singing their favorite song over (and over!) again because it makes them smile. Though you can’t take away the pain fully for your little one, you can alleviate some of the discomforts.
Bowman recommends focusing on one key component that tends to help tremendously: temperature. When baby’s teeth are coming through, anything that is cold will feel soothing. If you think of any time you go to the dentist for dental work, they’ll often recommend a cold compress after a treatment. Teething products that are safe for little ones to put into their mouths give the same relief.
Bowman says you can also freeze a washcloth for ten minutes and then allow your baby to suck on it. Just ensure it’s a big enough washcloth so it isn’t a choking hazard.
Smith says teething toys are game-changers for many parents, and for a good reason: gnawing feels good on sore baby gums. As with pacifiers, bottle nipples, and sleepsuits, your baby will have their own preference on what they like. “Some kids like the ones that go in the freezer, others don’t,” he says. “Each child is so different; find what is helpful to your child specifically.”
The Lollaland’s 2-in-1 Solid Food Feeder + Cactus Teether ($20, LollaLand.com) features a silicone mesh bag where you can place ice cubes, fruits, or veggies and freeze them. The design makes it easy for tiny hands to grasp and enjoy the cool sensation—and flavors—of the foods or water inside.
The highly-rated (and celeb-coveted) Vulli Sophie The Giraffe Teether ($26, Amazon) allows babies to nibble on a leg that goes way back in their mouth.
For a less bulky teether, try the Milk Tea Bubble Teether from Loulou Lollipop ($26, LoulouLollipop.com) that clips on to baby’s bib or onesie, so you don’t have to worry about it falling on the ground.
For many babies, pain seems to be worse at night than during the day because your baby’s pain tolerance decreases when they are tired, Smith says. While he doesn’t recommend giving children an anti-inflammatory medicine (like Infant Tylenol or Infant Motrin) every night while they are teething, for particularly rough evenings where they seem like they are really uncomfortable, half a dose will take the edge off and allow them to rest. Remember, always speak to your pediatrician before giving your baby medication.
How to Care for the First Tooth
Eventually, through all the fussiness and drooling, you’ll see that first tooth make its grand entrance. Now, what do you do? Your dental hygiene work begins before the teeth erupt, Smith says. “Use a wet washcloth or damp gauze to massage gums and clean under the lips to remove debris. This will get them used to having something in their mouth,” he explains.
Then, when your baby has a tooth or two, clean them with a washcloth or gauze to break up plaque twice a day. And go ahead and start thinking about their first trip to the dentist, which should happen by their first birthday. Your dentist will then walk you through when to begin toothpaste—usually when they have more teeth!—and how to properly brush.