When my first daughter started teething, my wife and I had some of our most stressful nights as young parents. After emerging from the blur of the newborn stage, we were confident that we were in a groove with the sleep schedule when teething threw a wrench in our plans for regular sleep. In fact, teething is a top cause of frequent night waking during the second six months of a baby’s life and through the age of two.
Teething typically begins when a baby is between six and eight months old, although some children don’t have their first tooth until 12 to 14 months. The two bottom front teeth (lower incisors) usually come in first and next to grow in are usually the two top front teeth (upper incisors). Then, the other incisors, lower and upper molars, canines, and finally the upper and lower second molars typically grow. All 20 baby teeth should be in place by the time a child is around two and a half years.
In preparation for teething, it’s best to educate yourself on what to expect and what you can safely do to help your child. Starting at the age of six months, signs to look for are irritability, accompanied by a lot of biting or chewing on hard objects and drooling. Other signs include gum swelling and tenderness; refusing food; and – as mentioned earlier – disrupted sleep.
Teething affects babies differently, but here are a few things I recommend to parents to help their babies with the discomfort and potential pain of teething – and to help everyone at home get more sleep:
(1) Give your baby a firm rubber teething ring to chew on. Avoid liquid-filled teething rings, or any plastic objects that might break.
(2) Gently rub the gums with a cool, wet washcloth, or (until the teeth are right near the surface) a clean finger. You may place the wetwashcloth in the freezer first, but wash it before using it again.
(3) Feed your child cool, soft foods such as applesauce or yogurt (if your baby is eating solids).
(4) Use a bottle, if it seems to help, but only fill it with water. Formula, milk, or juice can all cause tooth decay.
(5) Topical pain relievers and medications that are rubbed on the gums are not necessary, or even useful, because they wash out of the baby’s mouth within minutes.
Most importantly, take your baby to a pediatric dentist by age one to ensure that you are armed with the right information to help comfort your little one – and to set them up for a healthy smile for a lifetime. And visit mychildrensteeth.org to find a nearby pediatric dentist and to learn more about the importance of early oral care for kids
Dr. Edward Moody is president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). He has a private practice in Morristown, Tennessee. He is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of Tennessee College Of Dentistry, and received his certificate in pediatric dentistry from the Medical College of Virginia. He has been a member of the AAPD for 25 years.