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  • Writer's pictureDr Andy Raffles

Teething - Or An Excuse For Every Symptom?!

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

If ever there was a normal process in every child's development that causes major differences of opinion between children's healthcare workers and parents - and especially grandparents - teething is easily the biggest cause of disagreement. Almost every symptom possible in a baby has been put down to teething, yet the only certainty with teething is the eventual production of teeth!

Unfortunately, teething happens at the same time as your baby is vulnerable to infections and other illnesses. As a result, this has led to confusion around what's a sign of teething and what's not. The first teeth - called milk or deciduous teeth - are present under the gums at birth; they usually start to surface between 6 and 9 months of age, but there is a very wide variation. If you have a Red book, there is a page detailing the appearance times of the first teeth. Most children will have a full set of 20 milk teeth by the age of 3 years, which start to fall out - or are shed - from 6 years onward.

Teething: what are the signs?

A baby's teeth sometimes appear with no pain or discomfort at all, which partly explains why every baby and parent's experience is different it appears that most babies experience a constant, dull pain that gets increasingly intense in the four days before a tooth appears, before rapidly improving. Your baby can't tell you they are in pain, but you might see some pretty obvious signs there is a tooth on its way. The signs most healthcare professionals would agree to be indicators of teething include:

  • Drool or dribbling

  • Bites and gumming down on anything and everything - that's because the gnawing and chewing provides them with relief

  • Your baby may be more grumpy, distressed and irritable than usual

  • Sore and red gums

  • A loss of appetite

Other symptoms that might be signs of teething (although there is little agreement over these!) include: gum-rubbing, sucking, wakefulness, ear-rubbing, facial rash and a runny nose. A mildly raised temperature might also be a sign but it should not be over 38°C.

Your baby might be showing none, one, or many of these signs or symptoms. But it needs to be said that no two infants are the same. In fact, teething signs can be so wide ranging and vary so much from baby to baby that the only reliable sign of teething is the appearance of teeth - as razor sharp points in the gums!

Some studies go as far as to say none of these symptoms can be proven to be a sign of teething. They suggest the only way to know if your baby is teething is to examine their mouth - looking and feeling for an emerging tooth.

And what's not due to teething?

Other signs and symptoms people often associate with teething but that studies have found are generally NOT linked with teething include:

  • Congestion and coughs

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Runny stools (poos), increased number of stools and nappy rash associated with them

  • Less interest or appetite for liquids

  • Rashes other than facial rashes

  • Fever over 38°C

  • Vomiting

Don't assume one of these is a sign of teething. It could be more serious and require medical attention.

A fever and other important symptoms, like diarrhoea, rashes and vomiting are very unlikely to be caused by teething, so make sure you talk to your GP, Paediatrician or call NHS 111

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