Read on for our expert advice on how to soothe your teething baby, plus tips on caring for their newly emerged teeth.
The appearance of your baby’s first teeth is an exciting landmark in their development, but it can be a traumatic time, too. If teething pain is troubling your little one, it can certainly take the sparkle off the emergence of those pearly whites, and seeing them struggle with the various teething symptoms can be distressing for parents (not to mention those sleepless, disrupted nights).
To help take the edge off a little, here’s our round-up of common teething symptoms and ways you can help to ease them, plus how to gently care for your baby’s new teeth once they’ve emerged.
The appearance of your child’s first tooth is a landmark moment of parenthood. Every baby reacts differently to the sensations of teething and, while some may be wholly unconcerned by a tooth pushing through their gum (in fact, you may only be alerted to the process by the appearance of a tooth one day!), others will be a lot more distressed by the experience.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of teething means you can help to support your baby if necessary. Here are some common clues to watch out for:
Oh, the dribble! If your baby has started to drool seemingly constantly, chances are a pesky tooth is on the way. The drooling can start months before that tooth actually makes an appearance, and can continue right until your little one has finished teething, so get used to that sogginess! Adding a bib to your baby’s daily outfits can help to stop their clothes getting too damp.
- Teething rash
All that drool and dribble can cause your baby’s chin to get quite red and sore. Gently patting the area dry as often as possible can help, as can applying a suitable barrier cream, such as an organic, lanolin-based nipple cream.
The pressure of teeth pushing up through the gums can often be relieved by counter pressure, so don’t be surprised if your baby starts gnawing on anything within grabbing distance.
- Crying more than usual
Some babies don’t seem overly fussed by the sensation of teething, while others find it far more distressing. More frequent crying can often be expected though.
- Refusing food
Refusing food(if on solids) or getting upset while being breast/bottle fed is a teething symptom. If your baby has begun to refuse food, or if they start crying once they’ve put food in their mouth (or are attached at the breast or bottle, chances are their gums are bothering them.
- Pulling their ear or rubbing their cheek
Your baby’s gums share nerve pathways with their cheeks and ears, so they might be experiencing teething pain elsewhere. Rubbing at their cheeks or tugging their ears can sometimes be a sign of teething (although be mindful that this can also be a sign of an ear infection, so if it’s accompanied by a fever, consult your GP). Ear pulling can also be a sign of tiredness.
- Hard lumps under the gums
Unsurprisingly, you can often spot where a tooth is about to erupt before it breaks through the gum. A hard, blueish or white lump beneath the gum (also called a gum hematoma) is nothing to worry about, and is simply a sign that a tooth is pushing its way up to the surface. Just before the gum breaks, it often looks like there’s a small blister on the gum – once this happens, you can expect that tooth any moment!
- Being unsettled/difficult to settle
You might find that your baby seems fine during the day, when they are distracted by toys, games, books and the usual daily goings-on they observe. But all that gum pressure and pain can make your baby harder to settle for naps and bedtime, once the distractions have been removed. This can make sleep times uncomfortable for them and frustrating for you. Remember, they’re not trying to be difficult.
- More frequent night wakings
As above, teething pain will often lead to more regular night wakings and can make it harder to settle your baby once they are awake.
Sometimes, people point to other symptoms of teething, including rashes, fever and additional dirty nappies, but there is no evidence to support these claims, and it’s important not to simply attribute these symptoms to teething, in case your baby is actually unwell with something else. If your baby has a hight temperature for more than three days, or if they have loose bowel movements for more than 48 hours, contact your GP for advice.
When do babies start teething?
So, when can you expect your baby’s first tooth to make an appearance? ‘Baby teeth generally start to appear from around six to 12 months of age,’ says Dr Uchenna Okoye, Clinical Director at London Smiling. ‘It’s usually always the bottom two teeth first, followed the top two teeth, so it’s the incisors that come through first.’
However, don’t be surprised if they pop up a bit sooner. Anywhere form four months of age is now becoming more common. And remember, teething symptoms will generally start before any sign of teeth – sometimes up to several months.
What order to baby teeth come in?
Children have 20 teeth and most kids usually have their full set of milk teeth by the time they’re around three years old, says Dr Okoye. The order a baby’s teeth arrive in is fairly predictable, normal appearing in the following pattern:
- Central incisors (bottom two, first followed by the top two)
- Lateral incisors (again, the bottom two first, following by the top two)
- First molars
- Second molars
Best teething remedies
It’s pretty much universally agreed that teething is a pretty tough time for babies. Luckily, there are tried-and-trusted remedies you can try, to help support your baby if they’re finding teething tough.
✔️ Provide additional comfort
Extra cuddles and comfort will be necessary, so hold them close – your baby may be cranky, so you’ll need a little more understanding to help them through.
‘The best support is to arm yourself with patience,’ says Marina Persoglio, who has an MSc in medicinal herbs and is the founder of Nipper & Co. ‘Remember, if they are crying and fussy, it is because they are in pain, so lots of cuddles are necessary.’
✔️ Allow them to chew
One of the best ways you can help relieve the discomfort of teething for your baby is by allowing them to chew: chewing provides counter pressure, which can ease the ache felt from the teeth pushing their way up and out of the gums. Teething toys can work well and they’re even better if they’re cold, so store them in the fridge for additional relief.
✔️ Offer cool foods and teething toys
Refrigerated, soft foods, such as yogurt, can help to cool and sooth the gums and will likely be more palatable for your baby if they have gum pain.
‘Try refrigerated (not frozen) fruit, such as banana, if your baby is over six months old,’ suggests Persoglio. ‘You can also try massaging their gums with cold chamomile or fennel herbal tea – use organic to assure it is pesticide- and toxin-free.’
✔️ Offer pain relief
If your baby is in pain, you can give them a sugar-free painkiller, such as paracetamol, provided your baby is over the age of three months. Always follow the instructions on the medicine packet and speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions.
✔️ Try white noise at night
Distraction is often a good remedy to help a teething baby. However, this becomes difficult when you’re trying to settle your baby to sleep! ‘White noise can sometimes help at night,’ says Persoglio.
You can download free white noise apps to try – some parents swear by white noise, and it may help to avoid night wakings.
Teething: what doesn’t work?
According to the NHS, there is no evidence that teething gels or powders (either those that contain a local anaesthetic or homeopathic options) work. And amber teething necklaces are also a no. ‘Not only is there no evidence that they have any efficacy, but they are also a choking hazard,’ reminds Persoglio.
Brushing your children’s teeth
When your child’s teeth do finally start to emerge, don’t forget to look after them! When it comes to caring for your child’s teeth, the earlier you get started, the better.
‘I say start brushing even when they haven’t got teeth!’ says Dr Okoye. ‘You don’t need a brush at this stage – you can just use a flannel to clean their gums, to get them used to the sensation. Then, as soon as teeth appear it’s time to start brushing.’
Toothpaste and toothbrush choices
As soon as your child’s first tooth appears, you’ll need to get them a toothbrush and toothpaste. Dr Okoye says it’s very important to use a toothpaste designed specifically for children at first, because the higher fluoride levels in adult toothpaste can be harmful and, as they haven’t got the reflex at that age to be able to spit the toothpaste out, they will end up swallowing a lot of it. ‘It’s fine to move onto an adult toothpaste as soon as you’re confident they can spit it out,’ she says.
When it comes to choosing a toothbrush, a small, soft head is best. ‘Electric toothbrushes are also fine for kids,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘And remember to replace your child’s toothbrush every three to four months.’