When your baby’s first tooth shows up, you might be taken by surprise (“Ow! Was that just a bite?”), or you might just finally understand what all those strange symptoms were about. Look out for these common signs your baby is teething.

When does teething begin for infants?

Teething usually starts around four to eight months with the lower front teeth and continues until 30-36 months of age when the last set of molars appear. During the teething period there are symptoms that include irritability, disrupted sleep, swelling or inflammation of the gums, drooling, loss of appetite, rash around the mouth, mild temperature, diarrhea, increased biting and gum-rubbing, and even ear-rubbing. These symptoms were reported by 70-80 percent of parents according to an article from the British Dental Journal. So, why don’t all infants experience teething symptoms? Keep reading to find out.

When your baby's first tooth shows up, you might be taken by surprise (
CREDIT: BEBA ZUBI / SHUTTERSTOCK

The difficulty of teething

This is a process that may or may not be difficult. It can be difficult both for the baby, who gets very irritated and for Mum, who, besides struggling to help the baby in various ways, is also subject to breastfeeding bites, which are very painful during breastfeeding.

The signs that the tooth is coming in can happen up to two weeks before the tooth actually appears. These signs can be drooling, biting objects, irritability, loss of appetite, and even pain and sensitivity in the gums, as well as local swelling.

Other symptoms that can be an alert for the birth of the teeth are sleepless nights, and more frequent breastfeeding as a form of consolation. All symptoms can come and go during the baby teeth birth process.

Why teething symptoms may be confused with cold symptoms

Research has pointed out that teething begins around six months of age. This is the same time when an infant’s immunities they received from their mother, via the placenta, are diminishing. This means that the infant’s own immune system is becoming established. During this time, infants become vulnerable to minor infections. Because these two changes are taking place, the symptoms of teething can be confused with a minor illness or cold and visa versa. This explains why only 70-80 percent of parents reported teething symptoms of their infant; it’s very likely that parents of the remaining 20-30 percent associated the symptoms to a minor illness or cold.

Irritability

Your baby’s mouth will ache as that little tooth presses on the gums and pokes up to the surface, and, not surprisingly, it’ll probably make him feel out of sorts. Some babies may be irritable for just a few hours, but others can stay fussy for days or even weeks.

How to help your infant’s irritability: Cuddle, cuddle, cuddle! Every baby can use some good cuddle time when they are having a hard time with teething. The extra time spent with your baby can help alleviate their pain, by providing feelings of being comforted and reassured.

Drooling/Skin Rashes

It’s hard to believe so much fluid can come from the mouths of tiny babes, but teething stimulates drooling, and the waterworks are on for many babies starting from about 10 weeks to 3 or 4 months of age or older. If you find that your baby’s shirts are constantly soggy, fasten on a bib to keep him more comfortable (and cleaner), and gently wipe his chin throughout the day to stave off chapping.

How to help your infant’s drooling: Excessive drooling can cause a rash around the mouth, cheeks, chin and neck area due to the extra bacteria on the skin from the saliva. Try to keep the area as clean and as dry as possible by periodically wiping the area. Applying a simple barrier cream can help with the dry, chapped and sore skin.

Coughing

All that drool can make babies gag and cough (you’d choke too with a mouthful of spit). But it’s not cause for concern if your baby has no other signs of cold, flu or allergies.

How to help your infant’s coughing: If your infant’s cough continues or is accompanied by a high fever and cold or flu symptoms, contact your infant’s pediatrician. The high fever with cold and flu symptoms is not related to teething, but is actually a sign that your infant is sick.

Biting and Gnawing

Pressure from teeth poking through under the gums causes a lot of discomfort — which can be relieved by counterpressure (chewing and biting). Teething babies will gum whatever they can find, from teething rings and rattles to your soon-to-be sore nipples (if you’re breastfeeding) and fingers.

When your baby's first tooth shows up, you might be taken by surprise (
CREDIT: KAREN GILL / HEALTHLINE

How to help your infant’s biting and gnawing: Anything cold works great! My best friend mixes water with the pouches of baby food and freezes them to make fruit and veggie popsicles. There are teething rings, chew beads and any commercially bought teething toys can help, especially when chilled or frozen.

Low Grade Fever

A low grade fever is defined and caused by the following:

  • A temperature ranging from 98-100 degrees.
  • It can be caused by an infant putting their unclean hands in their mouth.

If the fever reaches above 101 degrees or continues, contact your infant’s pediatrician because it may not be the teething but a more severe illness.

How to help your infant’s low-grade fever: Use age-appropriate pain medication and please consult your infant’s pediatrician and the medication label for the correct dosage.

Cheek rubbing and ear pulling

This is caused by pain in the gums, which can travel to the cheek and ear, especially when the molars are erupting. Infants will rub those areas. Keep in mind that ear pulling or rubbing can also be a sign of an ear infection, please contact your infant’s pediatrician if this symptom continues or is accompanied with a high fever.

How to help your infant’s cheek rubbing and ear pulling: Try rubbing and massaging the gums with a clean finger for one to two minutes to help with the discomfort.

Teething and Diarrhea

Many believe that the increased saliva produced during teething can cause stool to become slightly loose. Keep in mind, diarrhea can be a sign of a more serious infection so contact your infant’s pediatrician if the stool becomes watery, because your infant could be at risk for dehydration. Contacting your infant’s pediatrician is especially important if the diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting or a high fever.

The type and severity of these symptoms vary widely from baby to baby — for one, teething means lots of pain and big-time tears, while another might breeze right through to a mouth full of teeth without a complaint. But you can probably expect to see at least some, and maybe many, of these symptoms. Hang in there, Mom!

Do babies get sick when teething?

Teething does not cause fever, rashes, diarrhea or colds, but it can make a baby uncomfortable. Crying should not increase due to teething, nor does teething increase susceptibility to getting sick.

A study published in 2016 in the journal Pediatrics analysed the scientific work that has been done in the past on the symptoms associated with tooth birth. In this way, the researchers were able to define with some representativeness the most common symptoms associated with the process. For example, they identified that these occur in 70.5% of children in the first 3 years of life and that the most prevalent phenomena were gum irritation, irritability of the child and excessive saliva production.

As for the existence of fever, the team found data showing that the temperature could rise a little, but usually stayed below 38ºC. For babies, a rectal or tympanic temperature around 38 ºC – 38.3 ºC is nothing more than a “fever point” or “febrile”.

This conclusion obliges parents and paediatricians to pay special attention when babies have rectal temperatures higher than 38,3 ºC during these times of teething. One can justify this body temperature as one of the symptoms of teething, but the most likely, according to that study, is that the fever is the symptom of another phenomenon that is affecting the baby.

In this case, it is best to take the child to the paediatrician. In relation to teething, the parents must make sure that the baby drinks water, continues to feed himself and help him to bear the discomfort, massaging the gums or sometimes using paracetamol if the situation warrants it and always under the guidance of the paediatrician.

In short, the birth of teeth in babies can cause a rise in temperature and a “touch of fever”. But when children have a fever higher than 38 ºC, then the origin of the fever can be different and it is best to take them to the doctor.

Caring for your child’s first teeth

When your baby’s first teeth emerge, it is time to visit a paediatric dentist. He will give all the necessary orientation to start brushing, indicating which toothbrush should be used, as well as the way of brushing and what else to use. The correct care of baby teeth is very important because, although they are temporary, they can also suffer from decay, besides the other essential functions they have.

The labels of toothbrushes indicate the age range they are intended for. The use of the correct toothbrush is important so that it does not hurt your baby, and being soft enough.

As for the use of toothpaste, ask your pediatric dentist to recommend the correct toothpaste, with the ideal amount of fluoride, and also the correct amount that goes on the toothbrush.

From the first year until the third year, the amount of toothpaste used is practically nothing, a small scraping of the toothpaste on the brush. The child is beginning to understand this practice and cannot throw away the toothpaste, so it sucks this paste, hence the importance of only giving toothpaste indicated for the age of your child so that their health is not harmed.

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Today’s Life Schools & Child Care. 2021. Teething: What To Expect | Today’s Life Schools & Child Care. [online] Available at: <https://www.todayslifeonline.com/parent-resources/blog/teething-what-to-expect/> [Accessed 19 July 2021].

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