- Babies start teething at around 6 months of age.
- The best way to soothe babies' sore gums is by letting them chew on a safe, preferably cold, teething toy.
- All babies should have their first dentist checkup by the time they turn 1 year old.
There are so many parts to raising babies that you have to work at: getting them to sleep, giving them tummy time to help them roll over, teaching them how to eat solid food, and so on. But the baby teeth? Those arrive no matter what you do, whether you've prepared yourself or not. And while you might not want to say goodbye to that gummy grin, it's better to be at the ready. But when do babies start teething, anyway? And does the arrival of teeth come with all of the fevers, cries, and sore gums that everybody says? Donald L. Chi, D.D.S., Ph.D., 2018 recipient of the Pediatric Dentist of the Year award from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), gives us the lowdown about what to expect when those teeth start popping through.
Generally, babies start teething by around six months.
Yes, you can expect those first pearly whites right around the half-year mark. "The front middle teeth come in first," Dr. Chi says. "Then the first set of molars, the canines, and finally the second set of molars in the very back of the mouth.
Babies have a total of 20 teeth — and most babies have a full set of teeth by age 3 years." You can consult this handy baby teething chart to see where to look first.
One thing to watch out for: While newborns can be born with teeth, if you see something in your baby's mouth at an extremely young age, it's more likely to be what's called Epstein's Pearls, which are white cysts that occur in 75% to 80% of newborns, the AAPD notes. You should point them out to your pediatrician, but generally they tend to go away on their own, and don't require treatment.
If your child doesn't have any teeth by the time he turns 1, it's not an immediate reason to worry — especially if you were a late bloomer when it comes to teeth, too. Still, "All babies should have their first visit to the dentist around the time the first tooth erupts — around age 6 months — or before their first birthday at the latest," Dr. Chi says. Even if the first one hasn't poked through the gums yet, schedule that visit.
There are clear symptoms of teething, but be careful about blaming your baby's chompers for everything.
Teething has been associated with everything from drooling and irritability to even fevers and diarrhea. In fact, whenever a kid seems out of sorts between the ages of 0 and 2, a parent is likely to name teething as a culprit. But is it?
"There are two common signs of teething: excess drooling and chewing on things like toys, books, and fingers," Dr. Chi says. "Babies may also show signs of oral discomfort and irritability. Some people believe that teething leads to health problems like runny noses, fever, colds, and earaches, but these are myths. Babies teethe for about 2.5 years, from age 6 months to 3 years, which is a long time. The colds and minor illnesses that occur during this period of a baby’s life are unrelated to teething."
The problem with trying to predict a tooth before you see it is that babies who are not teething can be irritable and drooly, too, as Slate reports:
[Researchers] found that no specific symptom occurred in more than 35 percent of teething infants. In other words, nonteething kids often seem like they’re teething, and teething kids don’t all have the same symptoms. What a nightmare for parents. “Despite hundreds of thousands of data points,” explains study co-author Michael Macknin, a Cleveland Clinic pediatrician, “we could not determine when a child was teething before a tooth appeared.”
So if your baby is running a high fever or comes down with a case of dreaded diarrhea, you can't just blame the teeth, and it's better to get things checked out by a doctor.
Teething babies are soothed by chewing.
When you're sure that your baby is fussing because of tooth issues, it's time to break out the teething rings and other toys that are safe to chew on. "Some babies like to chew on a parent’s finger with their gums or on a toothbrush," Dr. Chi says. "There are also teething pacifiers that can be filled with small pieces of frozen fruit, which babies can chew. But parents should avoid medications like Anbesol, Orajel, Tylenol, and other products marketed for teething babies."
"Pain relievers and medications that you rub on the gums are not necessary or useful since they wash out of the baby’s mouth within minutes," a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) adds. "Some medication you rub on your child’s gums can even be harmful if too much is used and the child swallows an excessive amount. Stay away from teething tablets that contain the plant poison belladonna and gels with benzocaine. Belladonna and benzocaine are marketed to numb your child's pain, but the FDA has issued warnings against both due to potential side effects."
In addition, the AAP warns against teethers that contain BPA, or teething necklaces or bracelets that are made out of amber, wood, marble or silicone. Besides the fact that long teething necklaces may be choking hazards, "the use of these necklaces is not supported by modern science," the AAP says. Instead, the AAP recommends wetting a washcloth, freezing it, and letting the baby chew on the nice, cold fabric.
Once the teeth come out, you have to start taking care of them.
Yes, even though they're baby teeth and fall out eventually — how you treat baby teeth now can affect the roots of the permanent teeth underneath. "In addition to visiting the dentist, there are two ways to care for baby teeth," Dr. Chi says. "First, avoid added sugars, including sugary drinks, juice, and sweets. And then, brush the teeth and gums with a rice-grain-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Fluoride toothpaste is safe when used in such small amounts."
Of course, your baby might not be a willing participant — which is all the more reason to go in for that checkup. "Brushing a baby’s teeth can be challenging," Dr. Chi says. "Dentists can show parents ways to make brushing easier."
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