Just when you think you've got this motherhood thing all figured out, Mother Nature throws you a curve ball and decides it's time for teeth to spring forth from your infant's mouth. Your normally happy baby might become a fuss bucket for no apparent reason, or all of a sudden copious amounts of drool have you replacing bibs every hour on the hour. On the other hand, some youngsters aren't bothered at all by the eruption of teeth and surprise their parents when they wake up one morning without that signature gummy grin. No matter which end of the spectrum your child falls on, knowing what to expect in your teething baby can help you deal with this rite of passage. Read on to learn how to cope when your infant gets a visit from the tooth fairy!
The average baby will celebrate the arrival of his or her first tooth around six months of age. But just as your baby will hit other milestones at his or her own pace, so too will teeth come on their own timeline. While six months is the average, there is a wide range of ages for that first tooth to appear. Though rare, some infants may be born with one or even two teeth, while others' teeth take well over a year to show up, according to Dr. John Liu, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Typically, the two bottom-front teeth will appear first, progressing until the second molars arrive, usually between 2 to 2.5 years old. "Typically by two-and-a-half, most children have all of their baby teeth in, which is about 20 teeth," Liu says.
Liu says there isn't generally an age to be concerned if teeth haven't appeared because all babies have their own schedules. Even in the case of missing teeth-when a tooth or two is absent-parents need not be concerned. "Just because they're missing teeth doesn't mean that we need to do anything about it, and certainly there isn't anything we can do about it at that early age," Liu says. Likewise, crooked teeth shouldn't be a concern either, as many times they'll straighten out when given time to settle into the mouth.
How do you know when those pearly whites are on their way? Common signs include mild irritability, drooling, an occasional low-grade fever and "this seeming need to constantly be chewing on something," says Liu.
But while some kids do experience discomfort with teething, there are children who aren't bothered by the process. "There are a lot of children where the parents will oftentimes not even realize that they're teething at all," Liu says. "They happen to be brushing their teeth and glance in and go 'Look at this, another tooth has come in.' It just varies from child to child as to what symptoms they might have or if they even have any symptoms of teething."
Some parents start expecting teeth once that signature drooling begins, but drooling can start months before the first tooth arrives. Because teething is a process, teeth don't arrive all of a sudden, Liu says. Instead, teeth push their way through in starts and stops.
How to Ease Discomfort
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 and your child don't have to suffer through two long years of on-and-off tooth torture. There are several options available to ease everyone's pain.
Liu suggests that parents try non-medicinal methods first, which includes giving the child something clean and safe to chew on, like a teething ring. If plastics are of a concern to parents, give the child a clean cloth or burp rag to chew. Wet the cloth, squeeze out the excess water, and throw it in a baggie in the refrigerator or freezer. The chill from the rag as the baby chews on it will help relieve the irritation. Also, be careful that the baby is chewing on age-appropriate items without small parts that could be choking hazards.
Stick with these tried and true methods (avoiding outdated methods of coping, such as dipping a pacifier in sugar or honey, which can cause tooth decay). Parents can also rub a clean finger on the gum surface to bring relief to the child as well, but beware of those sharp chompers, especially if your little one already has a tooth or two!
If you choose to go for a pain reliever, there are over-the-counter options available. Orajel makes gels and liquids that can be applied to the gums to soothe them, and Liu suggests giving children's Tylenol if your little one is particularly irritable or has a slight fever. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that medications that you rub on the gums are not necessary or useful because they wash out of the baby's mouth within minutes-and some can be harmful if overused and your baby swallows too much. Check with your pediatrician for the correct dosage for infant pain relievers and if at any point there are extreme fever spikes or extreme irritability on the part of the child.
Sometimes a child will develop an eruption hematoma--a fancy word for a bruise in the mouth where a tooth is erupting, Liu says. As the tooth starts to push its way in, there can be a bit of bleeding underneath the gums. Don't be concerned if you find a bit of blood on your child's sheets one morning. "It's just that that erupting tooth finally popped the eruption hematoma, and your child obviously is sleeping with their mouth open and drooling a little bit in their sleep," he says.
Once those teeth are in, parents must start thinking about dental care if they haven't already done so. Even though baby teeth won't be around forever, parents should instill good dental habits in their kids from an early age.
"Even before teeth come in, I advise that parents start getting into habit of wiping the child's mouth after feeding so that the child gets used to idea of getting their mouth cleaned," Liu says.
For no-muss, no fuss tooth care, simply take a burp cloth and wipe the gums and teeth. When more teeth arrive, Liu suggests using finger toothbrushes before transitioning to the smallest, softest toothbrush you can find. Even when your child is old enough to brush on his own, supervise the process to make sure the job is thorough and help with brushing. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests children see the dentist by the time they're a year old. This instills the habit of frequent dentists visits at a early age and gives the dentist the opportunity to chat with parents about proper tooth care.
Even if your baby is a terrible teether, take heart. Use these coping methods to ease his--and your--teething pain. And just think, as with all baby stages, this too, shall pass and before you know it you'll be helping your child yank those little teeth out to make room for more! Oh, the tooth fun never ends.