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Teething, the emergence of the first baby teeth through a baby’s gums, can be a frustrating time for many babies – and their parents. It helps to know what to expect when your child is teething, and what you can do to make the process a little less painful for you and your child.

The Teething Process

Teething can begin as early as 3 months and continue until a child’s third birthday.

Typically between the ages of 4 and 7 months, you will notice your child’s first tooth pushing through the gum line. The first teeth to appear are usually the two bottom front teeth, also known as the central incisors. These are usually followed 4 to 8 weeks later by the four front upper teeth. About 1 month later, the lower lateral incisors will appear.

Next to break through the gum line are the first molars (the back teeth used for grinding food), then finally the eyeteeth (the pointy teeth in the upper jaw). Most children have all 20 of their primary teeth by their third birthday. This is a general rule; if your child experiences significant delay, speak to your child’s doctor.

In some rare cases, children are born with one or two teeth or have a tooth emerge within the first few weeks of life. Unless the teeth interfere with feeding or are loose enough to pose a choking risk, this is usually not a cause for concern. If you have any questions it’s a good idea to see your child’s doctor.

Easing Teething

Whenever your child begins teething, you may notice that your child seems to drool more, and seems to want to chew on things. For some babies, teething is painless. Others may experience brief periods of irritability, and some may seem cranky for weeks, experiencing crying episodes and disrupted sleeping and eating patterns. Teething can be uncomfortable, but if your baby seems very irritable, contact your child’s doctor.

Although tender and swollen gums could cause your baby’s temperature to be a little higher than normal, teething, as a rule, does not cause high fever or diarrhea. If your baby does develop a fever during the teething phase, it is probably due to something else and your child’s doctor should be contacted.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when your baby is teething:

  • Wipe your baby’s face often with a cloth to remove the drool and prevent rashes from developing.
  • Place a clean, flat cloth under the baby’s head during sleep to catch the drool. This way, you’ll only have to change the cloth when it gets wet, not the whole sheet.
  • Give your baby something to chew on. Make sure it’s big enough so that he or she can’t swallow it and that it can’t break into small pieces. A wet washcloth placed in the freezer for 30 minutes makes a handy teething aid – just be sure to wash it after each use. Rubber teething rings are also good, but avoid the ones with liquid inside because they may break. If you use a teething ring, be sure to take it out of the freezer before it becomes rock hard – you don’t want to bruise those already swollen gums!
  • Rub your baby’s gums with a clean finger.
  • Never tie a teething ring around a baby’s neck, as it could get caught on something and strangle the baby.
  • If your baby seems irritable, paracetamol may help – but always consult your child’s doctor first. Never place an aspirin against the tooth.

Baby Teeth Hygiene

The care and cleaning of your baby’s teeth is important for long-term dental health. Even though the first set of teeth will fall out, tooth decay can hasten this process and leave gaps before the permanent teeth are ready to come in. The remaining primary teeth may then crowd together to attempt to fill in the gaps, which may cause the permanent teeth to come in crooked and out of place.

Daily dental care should begin even before your baby’s first tooth emerges. Wipe your baby’s gums daily with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze, or brush them gently with a soft, infant-sized toothbrush and water (no toothpaste!). As soon as the first tooth appears, brush them with water.

Toothpaste is OK to use on your child’s teeth once he or she gets old enough to spit it out – usually around age 2. Choose one with fluoride and use only a pea-sized amount or less in younger children. Don’t let your child swallow the toothpaste or eat it out of the tube because an overdose of fluoride can be harmful for children.

By the time all your baby’s teeth are in, it’s a good idea to brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day, and especially after meals.

Another important tip for preventing tooth decay: don’t let your baby fall asleep with a bottle. The milk or juice can pool in her mouth and cause tooth decay and plaque.