Many times when a baby is fussy or cranky, his discomfort is chalked up to “teething.” But the truth is, we don’t know that much about what teething really feels like for a baby because they can’t tell us and because they may cry for any number of reasons. All we know is that some babies don’t seem to be bothered at all by teething, while others scream bloody murder when a new little pearly white is making its first appearance.
Since we don’t really know how it feels, how can we help? For starters, parents need to keep tabs on what is going on in their child’s mouth so they can anticipate teething issues early. The appearance of a baby’s first tooth, usually somewhere between 6 and 12 months, is usually preceded by lots of drooling, chewing on various objects, and sometimes a rash on the face or in the diaper area. The first tooth might be painful, or it might simply be surprising or distracting for your little one. But if you stay in tune with your child, you will be more likely to identify the source of their fussiness when it turns out to be teething. When the bigger teeth like incisors and molars start to make an appearance, you may notice the drooling once again, along with increased crankiness, night-time wakings, and fingers or hands in the mouth.
As far as easing the pain, babies seem to gravitate toward two things: pressure and cold. Teething toys work well for pressure by giving little children something safe to chew on. But at times they will seem to chew on almost anything, whether it’s a toy or not – and that could mean the handle of a comb or hairbrush, the spout of a sippy cup, or Mom’s finger. In fact, if you’re willing, you can help them with a little gum massage: Wrap your finger in a clean gauze pad and put some gentle pressure on their gums to ease the pain.
Cold stuff also seems to provide some relief. Some chewy toys are designed to be placed in the refrigerator so they will be cold when the baby puts them in his mouth. Many moms also have luck with a frozen washrag that the baby can simply chew on, letting it get softer the more it gets chewed. Additionally, depending on the age of your baby, you can give her cold foods to soothe her mouth such as cold yogurt or applesauce.
Some moms swear by over-the-counter teething gels or ointments that contain a small amount of local painkiller. These results will only be temporary, and they may not be safe for every child, so check with your doctor before using them. Similarly, many moms use Tylenol or Motrin to ease the pain (with their doctor’s OK), but these are not cure-all solutions, and if you give the baby some medicine before bedtime, they may still wake up four to six hours later when the medicine wears off. A number of herbal and homeopathic remedies such as clove oil or chamomile are also available; again, check with your doctor before using any products with which you are not familiar.
Last but not least, make sure you take the time to give your baby plenty of love and attention when they seem to be in pain. Sometimes the crankiness is just a baby’s way of complaining and wanting to be heard and understood. Hold your baby, dance around the room, read a book, play with a new toy, or take a walk around the block to distract your baby from his discomfort. And again, remember that the teething pain is only temporary. Once the tooth comes in comfortably, you should have your happy baby back again.