10 things you should know if your baby is teething
From the benefits of something cool to bite on, to what pain relief to use, Arlene Harris gets expert advice on making teething trouble free
Everyone knows the agony of teething - both troubled infants and their parents are plagued with sleepless nights and fractious days as the process of cutting new teeth takes its toll. So to ease the pain of teething problems, here are some tips to help parents through this sometimes difficult developmental phase.
Some babies seem to take longer than others for teeth to cut through the gums
However, symptoms are usually the same - these include: red, flushed cheeks, nappy rash, dribble (which may lie in the skin folds on your baby's neck causing soreness), chewing on their fists or on their toys more than usual, sore and tender gums and disturbed sleep. "Babies develop teeth at different times and can have very different reactions," says a spokeswoman from the HSE. "Your baby may start teething from about 13 weeks, although no teeth may appear until six months or more. Disturbed sleep, feeding irritability and swollen, tender gums are common when your baby is teething. However, this should not cause a temperature of greater than 38° Celsius and should not cause a baby to be lethargic or drowsy. If these symptoms occur parents should seek medical advice immediately."
Anaesthetic gels aren't recommended
In terms of providing relief, paediatric dentist Dr John Walsh discourages parents from applying anaesthetic gels, "as trying to get it on exactly the right spot in a baby's mouth can be difficult and quite often they will ingest it or the gel can numb the throat which can be a distressing experience for a small baby."
Something cool can help alleviate pain
Dr Walsh, who is also the Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, suggests that offering babies something cool to bite on can help alleviate discomfort. "There are no new weird and wonderful products on the market and no new research into how best to deal with teething pain," he says. "So I would advise using a cooled teething ring. Chilled vegetables like carrots are also good, but be careful that nothing comes off into the baby's mouth, and a cold damp cloth rubbed over the area, can also help." Official advice from the HSE states that giving babies cold water helps to keep them hydrated and may also soothe their gums.
Always choose the sugar-free options
If opting for pain relief, the HSE encourages parents to ask for advice before choosing a particular product. "For parents who want to use pain relief to help their babies through teething issues, make sure to use a mild sugar-free option," says a spokeswoman. "Babies who have a low grade fever (less than 38°C) or who are in pain despite other pain relief methods can be given sugar-free paracetamol, or ibuprofen medication that is specifically for babies. But parents should speak to their pharmacist before using these medications and always follow the product instructions."
Beware of developing rashes
During the day, the HSE recommends keeping an eye on your baby's progress and making sure to keep their face and mouth clean. "If dribbling is a problem, wipe your baby's chin frequently to prevent a rash developing," the representative says.
Avoid homeopathic treatments
Some parents use homeopathic remedies to soothe their baby's pain, but Dr Walsh says it is best to avoid products which haven't been fully tested. "While I'm not saying that they don't work, I would just be concerned about giving a baby something which hasn't been properly tested," he states. The HPRA (Health Products Regulations Authority) has warned against unlicensed homeopathic products that are marketed and are available to buy online, which are manufactured in the US but are not licensed for retail sale in Ireland, as they could pose safety risks to infants and young babies. Research into these unlicensed products has indicated that they may cause serious side effects including: difficulty breathing, seizures, agitation, excessive sleepiness, constipation and difficulty urinating. However, the HPRA emphasises that this caution does not apply to the two homeopathic teething products that are available on the Irish market, which are manufactured by Nelsons and are sold with the brand name of Teetha.
Beware of amber jewellery
The Department of Public Health never recommends the use of amber teething jewellery in the form of necklaces, anklets, bracelets etc. Amber teething jewellery poses a potential choking/inhalation hazard for babies. Indeed late last year a toddler in California died tragically after his amber teething necklace allegedly strangled him while he was sleeping. Parents should never put jewellery, cords or string around their baby's neck.
Start a hygiene routine
By age two and a half your child will have the full set of 20 teeth - 10 on the top and 10 on the bottom. It is important to begin a routine of dental hygiene as soon as the teeth have emerged, so Irish dentists would encourage parents to take babies for their first check up at around one year old.
Teething is not as big of a deal as we think
While teething can cause babies to become distressed, Dr Walsh says often, the teeth are less of a problem than parents think they are. "Sometimes I think it's the parents who need medication rather than children as it can be so difficult seeing babies cry but not knowing how to help them," he says. "But while many issues are classed as teething problems, it just so happens that the time when maternal antibodies in the baby's system runs out, coincides with the beginnings of new teeth (at around six months) and for the first time, they are having to deal with other illnesses which their own antibodies are having to fight - so this leaves them more vulnerable."
Don't be afraid to take your baby to the GP
Dr Walsh says the most crucial aspect to dealing with teething is to make sure other, more serious, conditions are not mistaken for teething. "Back when I was first training, I remember being told that everything and the kitchen sink is passed off as teething and this can be detrimental," he says. "So I would advise parents to really watch their babies and if they are very distressed or out of sorts, seek medical advice as there could be something else at play which needs medication or some other treatment. So while I don't want to alarm parents, I want to make sure they don't feel hesitant about taking their babies to the doctor - you know your baby better than anyone, so if you feel there is more to their distress than teething, make sure to seek advice."
Caring for baby teeth
● As soon as the first tooth emerges, brush the teeth gently twice per day using just water and a small toothbrush. Good habits started early last a lifetime. The night time brush is the most important to establish as food left on teeth at night can cause tooth decay rapidly.
● First dental visit should be at around 1 year old.
● Once baby reaches two years, brush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste at least twice each day.
● If baby uses a bottle, do not use it as a comforter and do not let baby sleep or nap with a bottle in the mouth
● Never put sweet drinks including fruit juice into the bottle.
● Milk and water are the most tooth-friendly drinks. Give cooled boiled water until baby is one year old.
● Start using a cup from 6 months old and wean you baby off bottle feeding by 12 months.
● Do not add sugar to baby's food and if your baby uses a dummy, never dip it in anything sweet.
● Read food labels carefully for sugar content which may also be called sucrose, glucose, fructose or maltose. 'Low sugar' or 'No added sugar' on the label does not mean that the product is sugar-free.
● Remember that tooth decay is totally preventable. Babies are not born with a 'sweet' tooth so avoid giving them one.