“He must be teething” has become the catchphrase explanation for any crying baby. He could be famished, in a dirty diaper and dangling over a pit of alligators, but don’t worry, he’s “just teething.” If your baby is still fussy after several days, don’t be so quick to blame the new teeth. The symptoms for teething are similar to many other baby maladies. There is no set pattern for the duration and intensity of teething, so predicting can be as inaccurate as your local weather forecast.
The rate of arrival of new teeth is genetic. On average, the first tooth appears around six months. Some babies have 12 teeth by their first birthday, others are gumming their birthday cake. The arrival of the first few teeth can be exciting, especially with the first baby. Some moms record every tooth arrival in the baby book. The top and bottom front teeth are noteworthy, but thirty years from now will anyone care when the first bicuspids appeared?
Excessive drooling is the most obvious sign of teething. When your baby needs several wardrobe changes a day because he is drooling worse than the family dog, you can bank on a new tooth. Drooling may also cause a rash around the mouth, but this disappears after the tooth arrives.
Don’t take it personally if your teething baby actually bites you. In fact, you may notice that he is chewing and biting on anything just to relieve the discomfort. The chomping looks even more frantic and intense than usual. You can check for signs of an emerging tooth, but just be careful when you stick a finger in your baby’s mouth. Those new teeth are sharp! Not quite as sharp as those of the alligators in the pit, which makes me hope that gator babies don’t go through a teething stage.
Some less obvious signs of teething include diarrhea, pulling on ears, sleeping troubles, and irritability. More advanced babies may leave a Post-It note: I’m teething. Duh! Once the tooth breaks through the gum, these symptoms dissipate. When our Grace was teething for the first time, I called her doctor’s office to ask for recommendations for relieving the pain. Highlighting her stellar customer service training, the nurse laughed at me. She screamed into the phone, “She’s going to be going through this for two years!” While it is true that teething seems to be a constant during the first couple of years, there are a few things that can help your baby feel better.
Teething rings, warm or cold, never worked with our kids. Sucking on a cold, wet face cloth soothed them all through the teething stages. Put a wet cloth in the freezer for a while, but don’t let it freeze to the point of hardening. I understand the difficulty in marketing Teething Cloths, because “rings” are catchier, but the cloths really work.
Especially at nap and bed times, you can rub a gum anesthetic gel on the affected area. Watch out for biting while you are doing this! It’s just like trying to get the ball through the windmill at the miniature golf course, so timing is everything. If you can’t see where the tooth is coming in, you may have to guess logically based on which teeth your baby already has. The front teeth come in first and work outward. It may be the case that you take so long to figure this out that the tooth actually comes in while you are debating.
When your baby is getting used to the feeling of having teeth in his mouth, he may start grinding them together. (Sometimes teeth grinding is a result of an ear infection, so check for any accompanying symptoms.) While this habit is generally harmless, everyone else in the house will have their hairs standing on end. The sound ranks right up there with nails scraping on a chalkboard. You may want to build yourself some sort of cave to hide in, because you will just have to wait for your baby to grow out of this habit. Sometimes they pick it up again during the toddler years, but you can wear earplugs and go back to your cave until it is safe to come out again.