Teething: Tips for soothing sore gums

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Teething: Tips for soothing sore gums

Drooling, crankiness and tears can make teething an ordeal for parents and babies alike. Here's help easing the pain — for both of you.

What's typical?

Although timing varies widely, most babies begin teething by about age 6 months. The two bottom front teeth (lower central incisors) are usually the first to appear, followed by the two top front teeth (upper central incisors).

Classic signs and symptoms of teething often include:

  • Drooling, which may begin about two months before the first tooth appears
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Swollen gums
  • Chewing on solid objects

Many parents suspect that teething causes fever and diarrhea, but researchers say this isn't true. Teething may cause signs and symptoms in the mouth and gums, but it doesn't cause problems elsewhere in the body.

What's the best way to soothe sore gums?

If your teething baby seems uncomfortable, consider these simple tips:

  • Rub your baby's gums. Use a clean finger, moistened gauze pad or damp washcloth to massage your baby's gums. The pressure can ease your baby's discomfort.
  • Offer a teething ring. Try one made of firm rubber. The liquid-filled variety may break under the pressure of your baby's chewing. If a bottle seems to do the trick, fill it with water. Prolonged contact with sugar from formula, milk or juice may cause tooth decay.
  • Keep it cool. A cold washcloth or chilled teething ring can be soothing. Don't give your baby a frozen teething ring, however. Contact with extreme cold may hurt, doing your baby more harm than good. If your baby's eating solid foods, offer cold items such as applesauce or yogurt.
  • Dry the drool. Excessive drooling is part of the teething process. To prevent skin irritation, keep a clean cloth handy to dry your baby's chin. You might also make sure your baby sleeps on an absorbent sheet.
  • Try an over-the-counter remedy. If your baby is especially cranky, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) may help. Don't give your baby products that contain aspirin, however, and be cautious about teething medications that can be rubbed directly on a baby's gums. The medication may be washed away by your baby's saliva before it has the chance to do any good — and too much of the medication may numb your baby's throat, which may interfere with his or her normal gag reflex.

Do I need to call the doctor?

Teething can usually be handled at home. Contact the doctor if your baby develops a fever, seems particularly uncomfortable, or has other signs or symptoms of illness — including fever or diarrhea.

How do I care for my baby's new teeth?

Ideally, you've been running a clean, damp washcloth over your baby's gums every day. If not, now's a great time to start. The washcloth can keep bacteria from building up in your baby's mouth. When your baby's first teeth appear, switch to a small, soft-bristled toothbrush. There's no need to use toothpaste. Water is all you need until your child learns to spit — about age 2.

It's also time to think about regular dental checkups. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend scheduling a child's first dental visit after the first tooth erupts and no later than his or her first birthday. Your baby's teeth and gums will also be examined at well-baby checkups. Remember, regular childhood dental care helps set the stage for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

Last Updated: 2009-12-19
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