Updated: Feb 2, 2021
Teething is the pits! If you ask me, it mostly stinks because of the unknown... Is my baby not sleeping through the night because she is teething? Is she actually teething right now? Is that why she is fussy this week?
The first teething experience I had as a mom was miserable. My son refused to nurse or eat at all the day his first tooth came through. As luck would go, it happened to be Easter Sunday, so I spent all day at a family gathering bent out of shape because my baby literally hadn't eaten all day, and frustrated that I was missing out on family time while I was tucked away pumping in a room upstairs. Thankfully, the rest of his teeth were not quite so dramatic.
As you all know, I am a research junkie. I use research to help guide my own parenting decisions and all of the recommendations I make to you. And because teething is one of the most common topics my clients ask questions or have concerns about, I just had to dig in to find out what symptoms babies and toddlers actually experience with teething, what works to help soothe these symptoms, and what doesn't.
What I found was surprising (to me, at least!).
Some teething babies experience more dramatic symptoms (like how my soon wouldn't eat for an entire day) while other babies experience NONE.
That the same baby can have a different experience with every tooth (like my son, who wouldn't eat at all the day his first tooth came in, but really had no problems with any teeth thereafter).
Even more exciting, only a small number of babies have their sleep disrupted because of teething. Yay!.
But maybe the best news of all, is that by about 15 months, most babies handle their new teeth like champs and have very few or no symptoms at all thereafter. There is an end in sight!
Check out the stats...
Most babies (86%) have some discomfort on their gums while they are teething
A decent amount of them (68%) have irritability
More than half (55%) will drool
A smaller group (35%) have a loss of appetite
Some (30%) have a mild fever – usually if multiple teeth are coming through at the same time
Only 30% of babies have a disruption in their sleep related to teething.
Most of these symptoms occur when the back teeth are erupting vs front teeth
Is Your Baby Actually Teething?
First things first, how do you even know if your baby is teething?
Look in your munchkins mouth. If you notice redness and swelling of the gums and a white blistery area on the gum, a tooth is about to erupt through. If you can see or feel any sharp part of the tooth, the tooth has already erupted through. Typically symptoms of teething will last 0-4 days... starting as early as 1-2 days before the tooth erupts (when you will see the white blistery area), lasting up to to 2-3 days after the tooth has erupted through.
If you have one of those kids who isn't bothered by teething, lucky you! But if you didn't win the teething-child lottery, you don't have to suffer through without help. After hours digging through the research on teething, and looking for a fancy, scientifically proven, magical way to ease your baby’s teething troubles, I was kind of bummed when I found that the tried and true methods are what really work (chewing, rubbing, freezing, medicating).
As with most things, try non-medicinal methods first... but know you have the option to medicate as needed.
Give your kiddo something to chew on (teething ring/toys, frozen burp cloth).
Chewing alone can be soothing for your kiddo.
FROZEN OR COLD TOYS have the added benefit of numbing your kiddos gums which can help with any discomfort he is having.
Rub a clean finger on your kiddos gum surface.
The pressure can be soothing... just like rubbing a boo boo anywhere else!
PSA - Beware of any sharp chompers... they hurt!
TYLENOL/MOTRIN – You can use Tylenol or Motrin as needed if your kiddo seems to be having a really hard time with the teething... or if he’s having a hard time during the day and you are anticipating a rough night.
Of course, check with your child's pediatrician before medicating to ensure these medications are safe for your child
Avoid Oral Gels
However, I was surprised to learn a big NO NO... what NOT to use to help with your baby’s teething pain!
Do NOT use oral gels! Oral numbing gels (like Orajel, Baby Orajel, Orabse, Anbeson, Hurricaine, etc) can cause a serious, life threatening condition called methemoglobinemia. In fact, these oral numbing gels are beginning to be discontinued due to their risk when used for children under the age of 2 years. Methemoglobinemia can occur with very low doses, can occur the first time it is applied or after additional use, and it can occur within minutes to hours later. This life-threatening condition is rare, but totally not worth the risk.
Plus, for those who do not have this reaction, these oral gels wash out of your kiddos mouth within minutes, so are often not helpful for long anyway.
Bottom line, don’t risk it.
The methods your parents used probably aren’t a good option either... including dipping a pacifier in sugar, honey, or whiskey.
Amber Necklaces - Do They Work?
I also have some mediocre news to deliver about amber necklaces. Many of my clients and friends rave about their amber necklaces! Well, I dug really hard into the research. I really wanted to find something... ANYTHING to share with all of the amber necklace lovers out there. I am sorry to say, I didn't find much.
Here is what I did/didn't find....
WHAT I DIDN'T FIND
There isn’t one scientific study testing the effectiveness of amber necklaces on teething symptoms.
WHAT I DID FIND
I did find a study from 2015 that showed that the properties from amber that are thought to help with inflammation and pain were NOT released from intact beads... only from broken beads.
WHAT ELSE I FOUND
I found a handful of studies on risks of using amber necklaces... risk of strangulation, risk of choking (if necklace breaks and beads are loose), product review showing 50% of amber necklaces pose risk of strangulation if caught on something (50% of necklaces did not release when using force), and how many parents continue to use amber necklace (due to fear of teething troubles) despite education on injury prevention.
Based on the limited research we do have, it is not likely that the properties believed to help with teething are actually released from intact beads. Why then do many parents feel that amber necklaces have been helpful for their teething babies/toddlers? Research shows that parents fear teething symptoms more than they are actually a problem. Teething symptoms are pretty fleeting... lasting 0-4 days with each tooth, don’t occur in all kiddos, and may look different from one tooth to the next.
Although there isn’t anything that shows that amber necklaces actually work... there is only 1 lonely study that shows it likely doesn’t work. So, who's to say amber necklaces don't work if they haven’t been studied? If you are going to use an amber necklace on your baby or toddler, take it off when your kiddo is out of sight (sleeping, playing in another room, etc) to prevent any crazy accidents from happening. And consider trying the soothing methods that HAVE been well studied and widely proven to be effective.
Katie Ramirez, RN, BSN, CLC
Born Happy, Owner and Coach
Katie Ramirez is a Registered Nurse, Certified Lactation Counselor, and Coach for parents of babies and toddlers. She has spent more than a decade serving patients at major university hospitals such as Vanderbilt University and Penn State University Medical Centers. Katie now spends her time supporting and empowering parents of babies and toddlers as owner and coach for Born Happy.
Katie is the proud mother of two beautiful children, Roberto (age 5), and Veronica (age 3). She has a passion for health, wellness, and happy children, and believes that, with the necessary knowledge and support, all parents can live happy.
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