Teething – Symptoms and Solutions

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Teething is sometimes a painless process where your baby will suffer little or no pain. However, not all babies react so well to it, which can make for a long drawn-out process that is not only painful for them but incredibly stressful for parents.

Whether it’s identifying when it first starts to happen, how to sooth your child during the ordeal or just knowing treatments to help the situation, there are ways to manage a teething child.

Teething is essentially the moment when your little one’s first baby teeth come through their gums. Whilst the teeth do begin to develop in the womb, they only start growing out of the gums from 6 to 9 months old. It’s during this time that it can be touch and go with your baby.

You can’t predict how your baby will react before it starts to happen. If you’re one of the lucky ones, it’ll be a pain free process for both of you but if you’re not so lucky, you may be in for a few sleepless nights. Teething might be inevitable but you can still help ease the process. Thankfully, long gone are the days when applying whiskey to your child’s gums was a solution and there are a number of techniques to use instead to make things easier for everyone.

Spotting the signs

Firstly, it’s important to know what the symptoms are so that you are able to understand why your baby is in pain. The first signs are usually red swollen gums, sleepless nights, biting, refusing to eat and heavy drooling. These will indicate your baby’s first tooth is on the way.

The reason teething can be a painful progression is that when the tooth starts pushing through their gums, the feeling can cause irritation, pain and swelling. It’s a similar feeling to developing your wisdom teeth, which are often the cause of aches. Whilst adding pressure may help at first, it can actually be counter-productive as sucking causes more blood to rush to the swollen areas, making them more sensitive. This is often why during this period, babies are known to reject bottle and breast-feeding.

Simple steps

There a number of steps you can take to help reduce the pain of swollen gums. Actions such as rubbing a clean finger over sore gums can help the pain for a while whilst giving them something to bite on, which equally helps relieve the pressure. Babies will often find things themselves to chew on and anything that is cold can be soothing, such as biting on chilled fruit or vegetables. A teething ring is also wise and best when refrigerated, or keeping a partly frozen wet-flannel, which is fairly long lasting. Chilled water has been proven to help calm gums and if your baby is old enough for solid food, cold apple puree or yoghurt is also an effective form of treatment.

If these treatments aren’t successful, you can always invest in a specialist baby teething gel which either contains a mild antiseptic or a local anaesthetic. They are safe to use on children and should be applied with a clean finger. They numb the gums for about 20 minutes but should not be used for more than 6 times a day. You should also avoid gels which contain choline salicylate, as they provide no better treatment and can cause a liver condition called Reye’s syndrome in those under the age of 16. Check the NHS website for the latest instructions and tips on which gels to use, especially as adult gels aren’t always safe. 

Infant paracetamol can also be effective but should only be applied if you are certain your child is teething, particularly as ear infections are often mistaken for teething as they present similar symptoms. Paracetamol is only ideal if your baby is in real distress, however it can only be given if they are at least two months old. Ibruprofen can also be used as long as they are at least 3 months old and weigh a minimum of 5kg (11lbs). Once again, it’s best to only use them if they are in a lot of pain and they definitely should not be used regularly as teething problems can often occur sporadically. Again, always check the NHS website for the latest guidelines.

Nocturnal pain

Teething pain often occurs more at night than during the day. This is because babies are usually distracted from the pain throughout the day and lack any form of distraction at night, so they’re more likely to notice it and become upset. It’s vital to remember that you can’t tell how long the teething process will last; some children suffer just a few days before it actually happens, whilst others will suffer for months on end.

Easing their pain will help you and most babies will have the same problems when growing their first few teeth. It will eventually subside once more of their teeth come through, especially the molars, which should come in after their first birthday, giving you and your baby plenty of time to recover.

Teething is inevitable, but the way you approach it can make the situation less painful for you and your child. There are numerous ways to treat teething and it really doesn’t have to be as painful as it first seems – it’s a natural part of growing up that every baby must go through. As long as you are prepared for any situation, it definitely doesn’t have to become a long and arduous period for the whole family.