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Old-Timey Teething Treatments are Now Taboo

Once upon a time, teething was (incorrectly) considered a cause of death for babies. Although it was a coincidence, in the 19th century, many children between the ages of 1-3 died; about the same time they were teething. Of course, we now know it was other illnesses and diseases are what caused their death.


Image of baby teething with fist in mouth

While we know, of course, teething isn’t fatal; many babies suffer a great deal of discomfort as they go through the teething process. You can certainly see why. The gums become swollen and sore as each tooth slowly makes its way to the surface, finally erupting through brand new tender gum tissue. The teething process usually begins at around six months of age and continues until they get a full set of 20 teeth at about 30 months. When broken down, the timeline looks like this (although it could be one year earlier or later)

  1. 6-9 months: central incisors
  2. 9-12 months: lateral incisors
  3. 14-18 months: first molars
  4. 18-23 months: canines
  5. 26-33 months: second molars

As a parent, you want nothing more than to make your child feel better. (Admit it, you wouldn’t mind a little sleep, either.) However, first, it’s essential to be aware of some of the things you should NOT do. They include some familiar, but older teething treatments and other products parents might assume are safe.

  • Do not use over the counter (OTC) products containing benzocaine as it can “pose a serious risk to infants and children.” The FDA has taken steps to remove these products from the market, but please check labels anyway.
  • Do not use jewelry marketed for teething relief as these products may lead to injuries such as strangulation and choking. The FDA is monitoring these products carefully.
  • Do not use homeopathic teething products. When tested, some of these products are associated with babies and toddlers becoming severely ill or dying after taking them due to an ingredient called toxic belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade.

Our staff at our Children’s Dental Clinic has some suggestions that might help you and your baby get through those months of teething. According to Dr. Kim Hort, DMD at the SEARHC Children’s Dental Clinic, there are some simple things you CAN do to comfort your teething baby. They may not be magical but should be extremely helpful. She offers some examples here

  • Cold: use a chilled teether, or if your baby is over 6m old, cold water in a cup. If junior is already eating solids, consider chilled fruit or frozen banana to gnaw on. You can also try a chilled washcloth. Put a wet washcloth in a bag in the refrigerator. Once chilled, give it to your baby to chew. The fabric massages the gums while the cold numbs the pain. Soaking the washcloth in chamomile tea instead of water can soothe babies and help them sleep.
  • Pressure: use a teething toy. Pressure can ease teething discomfort. Something firm enough that your baby can’t chew through it and cause a choking hazard, but not hard enough to break one of those new teeth and not one filled with liquid. You may need to experiment with different ones to find the right fit for your baby and to fit the area in the mouth that is causing discomfort. You can also let teething babies teethe on your fingers, but please be sure your hands are clean. You can even give a little gum massage at the same time as that little bit of pressure can distract the brain from the pain.
  • Power of Distraction: Keep your child preoccupied as much as possible to reduce symptoms. Complaints of pain and irritability often increase at night, when your toddler has time to dwell on the discomfort. Sleepless nights lead to restless days, exacerbating the discomfort associated with teething. (We all know how we feel when we haven’t had enough sleep.)

Dr. Hort also suggests offering a range of textures such as washcloths, toothbrush bristles, and teethers with varying surfaces.

Another tip is about skin care. Discomfort from teething is not only from inside the mouth, but it also comes from skin irritation on your child’s chin caused by excessive drooling. Your child’s body reacts to swollen gums by increasing the production of saliva and causes drool. To prevent chafing and a rash, do your best to keep your child’s chin dry. You can also apply some petroleum jelly as a protective barrier before bed and after bath time.

Remember, this is only temporary. Just wait until your babies become teenagers. You’ll wish you had these few months of teething back again.

The information presented here was reviewed by Kim Hort, DMD, SEARHC Children’s Dental Clinic.

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