Most parents would agree, there’s not much cuter than the grin of a toothless baby. Even so, the same parents often anxiously anticipate their baby’s first teeth. When will they arrive? Will her smile look like her Mom’s or Dad’s? Will he be fussy and irritated during the “teething” process? Each of these questions is a legitimate concern for many parents.
What we know about teething is it’s a very natural process in which teeth buds develop beneath the gums surface while the baby is still in the womb. Around age 4 to 7 months, most babies get their first tooth, although teeth can arrive as early as 3 months and as late as 12-15 months of age. Each one appears individually in a typical pattern of the bottom two middle teeth, then four to eight weeks later, the top two middle teeth. The teeth along the sides and back follow over the course of a few months, extending for the first three years when all 20 “baby teeth” arrive. Although often referred to as “cutting teeth”, the gums are not cut by the erupting teeth; alternatively, special chemicals cause the gum cells to separate and die, exposing the teeth growing below to the gums surface.
Even though teething is a natural process, it is often accompanied by mood changes, irritability and overall discomfort from swollen, painful gums and skin irritations or rashes caused by drooling. As well, some babies experience a low-grade fever and diarrhea. If this occurs, parents should consult their doctor to ensure these are not symptoms of something more serious, as teething does typically cause these symptoms. Teething does often lead to babies crying, have difficulty sleeping or eating and pulling their ears or sucking on objects to try to get relief.
Common treatments for teething include small, handheld plastic rings or objects called “teething rings”. These objects can be chilled or frozen and applied to the affected area to relieve swelling and irritation. Using a clean finger to gently rub your baby’s gum in smooth, even strokes also provides considerable relief. Over the counter medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or child-safe pain relievers are also acceptable.
Once the teeth erupt, dentists recommend brushing babies teeth at least twice a day. It is actually suggested that you wipe off your baby’s gums with a warm cloth or a piece of gauze after each meal even prior to having teeth. You don’t need toothpaste for this, just water. Wiping the gums is essential since foods, even baby foods, tend to stick to the gums and teeth and can lead to tooth decay. To properly clean your baby’s teeth, use an American Dental Association (ADA) approved, soft head toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. The general rule is to begin using toothpaste when your child is old enough to spit it out, usually around age 3 years. Gently brush the front and back of your baby’s teeth as well as along the gums and tongue. Once your baby’s teeth touch, introduce flossing. To avoid excessive tooth decay, don’t let your baby fall asleep with a bottle as the bottle’s contents of milk or juice stay in contact with the teeth and are much more likely to cause decay and plaque build-up. By age 1 or when your baby has six to eight teeth, the ADA recommends a first dental visit. Also, by modeling good dental hygiene, your baby can be encouraged to practice daily dental care that can lead to a lifetime of bright, healthy smiles.