Is My Baby Teething?

Did you know some babies are born with teeth? My great-uncle was born with two natal teeth! On the other hand, some infants don’t get their first teeth until after their first birthday!

When do babies begin to teethe?

Babies vary tremendously as to when, and in what order, the little ‘pearls’ arrive in their mouth. But as a big generalization the “estimated time of arrival” for baby teeth are:

  • Bottom two front incisors (biting teeth) by 6 months.
  • Top two front incisors by 7 months.
  • Two more pairs of incisors, top and bottom, by 8–12 months.
  • Four back molars (grinding teeth) at 10–14 months.
  • Four canines (pointed teeth) at 16–20 months.
  • Four more back molars at 24–30 months.

A total of twenty baby teeth!
How do you know your baby is teething?

Before having children, one would think that you’d simply look in a baby’s mouth to know if they’re teething – ha – that’s a trap for young players! You see, “teething” does not just refer to when a tooth is cutting through the gum, but also when the teeth are moving towards the gums – in other words, there may be nothing at all to see. But if you’re pretty sure there may be a new tooth erupted in the depths of your baby’s mouth, and your baby is not co-operating to let you have a good look, then you can always do the ‘clink test’: Gently tap a teaspoon on their gums to hear if there is a new pearly white.

However, teething also does have its own set of other “Symptoms” including:  

  • Crying, irritable, grizzly, cranky, clingy, fretful, sooky.
  • Mild fever (say 37.5°C–37.9°C).
  • Trouble sleeping, waking up crying.
  • Very ‘mouthy’ — desperate to chew and gnaw on things.
  • Lots of chewing on fingers in their mouth.
  • Producing more saliva and dribbling more than usual (which can cause a rash on the chin, or chafing from continual dummy use).
  • One or both cheeks bright red, occasional spot on face.
  • Stools looser or runnier than usual (not diarrhoea).
  • Nappy rash.
  • Rejecting milk or meals.
  • Gums tender and swollen (where a tooth is about to cut through).

By the way, babies who are teething can also tug at their ears – but teething does not cause ear infections.

How do you ease their pain? What can we do?

Some babies find teething a breeze, and others can be very uncomfortable. So what are the top tips of possible remedies we can do to ease their teething discomfort?

  • Chilled teething rings and other teething toys for a young baby to relish slobbering all over.
  • Infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen for the pain (especially for sleeping).
  • A barley drink can help neutralise the acidity of a baby’s saliva.
  • Homeopathic chamomilla for teething pain, and homeopathic aconite for counteracting the one-red-cheek scenario.
  • Other homeopathic remedies such as Weleda™’s Baby Teething Powder and Naturo Pharm™’s Teethmed Relief.
  • Chemists sell teething gels to rub on the gums (e.g. Bonjela™) — especially useful before bedtime.
  • Eliminate starchy foods from their diet.

Great teething food ideas include frozen bananas (peel and wrap in cling-film to freeze), dried bananas (buy at health shops), pieces of peeled apple wrapped in gauze-cloth to gnaw on, cold celery sticks, freezing the wet corner of a flannel to chew on, a cooked knuckle, or even a frozen breastmilk ice-block. (But always be very careful to avoid baby choking on small pieces of food.)

How do we care for an infant’s teeth?

“Baby-teeth” is not perhaps the most apt name, for they remain in our children’s mouths long after they are no longer babies – in fact some are typically still there in the early teen years. Obviously good oral dental hygiene is important at all ages of course, but as you can’t floss a young baby’s teeth, how do we guard against cavity decay?

The first point to realise is that even without directly feeding a baby sugar, their food contains loads of sugar – because there is lactose in breastmilk/formula and fructose in fruit juice, and of course they need the lactose for cellular energy – but they definitely don’t ever need any processed cane sugar!

Older babies who frequently or continuously suckle on breastmilk/formula/juice do have higher chances of baby-tooth decay, in comparison to babies who have 4-6 hourly feeds. Non-newborn babies who are fed regularly through the night also have higher chances of baby-tooth decay, in comparison to non-newborns who sleep through the night. (Another reason to teach your baby to sleep soundly overnight – apart from improving their general wellness and IQ; and reducing the numerous consequences of your own sleep-deprivation.)

The other big contributor to baby-tooth decay, is the milk/juice that “pools” in the mouth with babies who are routinely fed to sleep for naptimes. (Another reason to teach your baby to fall asleep without the sleep-prop of feeding.)

So what can we do?

  • Once baby-teeth arrive, or even before they arrive, you can wipe clean the teeth and gums with a clean, damp flannel or gauze/terry cloth after each feed – or at least twice a day.
  • With a few teeth in the mouth you could switch to a small infant soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • By around their first birthday or once your toddler’s first back molars have arrived, then it is best to use a toothbrush all of the time.

Once they have the ability to spit out, then you could also begin to use a fluoridated toothpaste, because fluoride applied topically on the tooth (ie toothpaste) is well documented to reduce cavities – but fluoride ingested (ie within drinking water) does continue to cause great controversy.

Ouch! I’m still breastfeeding and now he’s biting! What can I do?!

Many babies never bite, but some older babies do create a hard habit that’s challenging to crack. So what to do with a biting breastfeeder is certainly a tricky question – devoid of concrete answers. There is simply a variety of possible solutions you can try.

Some babies bite to get your attention, especially towards the end of a feed when they’re loosing interest. They clamp down hard, you jump out of your skin, and that usually produces one of two results: Either the startled baby finds it very funny, and gives you a big grin. Or the startled baby finds it very frightening, and refuses to breastfeed. Either way, you can be left with a very saw nipple for a couple of days.

The main anti-biting tactics are:

  • Saying in a firm voice “No! Do not bite mummy!” and taking him off the breast.
  • Stopping the feed immediately – to teach baby that feeding stops when he bites.
  • If baby is teething – review the above strategies to reduce teething discomfort.

If, after trying these strategies, the baby continues to regularly bite during feeds, then this may be a “sign” that he is ready to self-wean. Although we as mothers can often not be ready for our babies to wean, it is not uncommon after nine months of age, for babies to self-wean – obviously they haven’t learnt to read, so don’t yet know that the World Health Organization recommends they’re breastfed for two years!

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