Learners guide to... Teething
Baby’s teeth vary in size and shape according to where they’re located in her jaw and the job they’re set to do. These differences will help her chew, speak and smile. They will also give her little face its shape and form. The tiny white cap of your baby’s first emerging tooth marks an exciting milestone and another reminder your baby is growing – fast! But teeth pushing through gums can be an uncomfortable time for many babies and bewildering for parents, so it’s good to know what to expect and how to make the process less painful for both of you.
When does it start?
While in rare cases a baby may be born with a little tooth or two, first teeth often don’t emerge until around 6 to 10 months of age, although premature babies may take a little bit longer. Usually, the first teeth to appear are the two front teeth at the bottom, also known as the lower central incisors. The top two front teeth, or upper central incisors, usually come next at around 8 to 12 months.
Then, over the next few years your baby’s gummy grin will eventually showcase a full set of 20 baby, or ‘primary’, teeth.For some bubs, teething is painless. Others may experience short periods of irritability. Some may seem grouchy for weeks and wake up crying at night needing lots of soothing and comfort.
How do you know?
PP’s medical expert, GP and mum-of-three Dr Ginni Mansberg, says the signs of teething can vary greatly. “Pretty much anything goes, whether it be chomping on things, dribbling, irritability, having a low-grade fever, pulling ears, having red cheeks or a red bottom,” says Dr Mansberg. “These are all, theoretically, signs of teething.” However, keep in mind that teething can often get blamed for a variety of complaints from high fever and runny nose to diarrhoea and rashes, which could be signs of a different problem.
“Teething will never make your baby sick,” Dr Mansberg says. “It won’t make them go off their food, look unwell, cough or make their nose run. And while they can have a slightly runny poo, watery diarrhoea is not teething.” If you are unsure of the cause of your baby’s discomfort, take her to your GP.
How to help
Some parents swear by cold teething rings or a clean washer that has been dipped in water and chilled in the fridge. Others let their babies chomp on chilled teething rusks, a frozen banana or a peeled, cold carrot, but if you use these options, make sure to stay close by as they can pose a choking risk. A comfort suck, or breastfeed, can also help soothe an unhappy baby.
There are also generations of mums who swear by teething gels, so you may find that rubbing a little onto your baby’s gums with a clean finger will help to settle her down. There are no harmful ingredients in teething gels, just follow the instructions on the packet and use them appropriately. Paracetamol can be another good pain reliever as long as you follow the prescribing guidelines correctly. (It is still the most common cause of accidental overdose in Australian children so just make sure you read the bottle and never move the medicine from one bottle to another.)
While a number of non-medical remedies, such as amber teething necklaces and Bach flower remedies, are said to help ease discomfort, there are no medical studies to support this yet. “What you do and use comes down to your parenting philosophy,” says Dr Mansberg. “You’ve got to find what you are comfortable with and if that’s paracetamol or gel, that’s fine. Just try to get in tune with your baby and find out what works for you both.” Your baby may also develop a dribble rash around her mouth and chin so keep the area as dry as possible. You can also use a barrier cream – lanolin or paw paw ointment is fine – around her mouth at night for extra protection. If the skin starts to crack or bleed, see your GP immediately.
Looking after your baby’s first teeth is important for her health and for strong, healthy second teeth. At first, it’s best to wipe teeth with a clean face washer every day. You don’t need toothpaste. Then, you can start using a soft baby toothbrush. Try and get into the routine of brushing them twice a day. When she is 2, or old enough to spit out, you can start to use a smear of low-fluoride toothpaste.
Once your baby progresses to a proper toothbrush let her hold it so she can get used to the feel of it. Let her watch you brush your teeth as it will encourage her to see it as a normal daily routine. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommends your child’s first dental check-up should be around 12 months, but it’s a good idea to take her along to your appointments too, so she gets used to the dentist’s environment.
When to be concerned
If your baby’s gums bleed or blister take her to see your GP. Also, let your dentist know if you haven’t spotted a tooth by the time she is 12 months old.“We normally say if babies don’t have a tooth by 12 months it doesn’t necessarily mean anything but it’s a good idea to have things checked out by a dentist,” Dr Mansberg says.
Baby teeth fall out at various times in childhood. By age 21, all 32 permanent teeth have usually erupted.
What works for me
“Bonjela works a treat when I think Georgina’s teeth are causing her grief,” says Jacqui, mum of Georgina, 9 months. “She loves the taste and settles down straight after it has been rubbed on her gums.” “Lizzie loves gnawing on a chunk of cold cucumber,” says her mum, Patricia. “I scrape out the seeds and she’s totally happy.” “Riley chomps and dribbles on anything he can get his gums on,” says Mai. “The top of the cot is a favourite spot and a couple of his toys are just the right texture. And the strap of my favourite bag. So I just do a lot of wiping down and keeping things clean.” “I don’t understand how it works but it seems to help,” says Kristiane about the homoeopathic remedy she has for baby Dom, 9 months.
Biting & breastfeeding
When your baby gets her first teeth you may find she will experiment with biting the breast and giggle when mum jumps or shouts. A firm “No!” and removing the breast from her mouth is a good response to this. Never hit or shake your child. Most babies stop biting fairly quickly if you are consistent with your response. They won’t if you ignore it.
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