When someone I meet finds out I'm a dentist, I'm inevitably asked to either have a look at their mouth or get the "Ew, gross! I couldn't look in peoples' mouths" response. This only changed subtly when I became a mum and started meeting lots of new parents. Now the number one, straight to the top of the charts most popular question is about… teething.
The bane of nearly every parent's existence, it's hard to conceive that teething is part of our normal physiology and development. It makes babies grumpy, and any adult who has had their wisdom teeth come through will know why. Pointy new teeth breaking through the gums causes a lot of children a lot of discomfort. Of course there will always be the odd one or two who seem to pop out teeth as easily as you or I would pop bubble wrap, but for the majority it's unpleasant at best. So the question is, what can we do to help our little ones through it?
As with any health issue, there are opinions ranging far and wide on what is the best thing to do. I believe the most important thing is to first determine that your child is in fact teething, and it's not something else that is upsetting them. Poor old teething gets blamed for an awful lot of things going pear-shaped.
About the time my first child's "two year old molars" were due, her personality completely changed and she seemed to sprout little devil horns. Each day she found new and interesting ways to antagonise me. She was restless, hard to settle to sleep, throwing food and tantrums at will. Each morning I checked her mouth thinking that the eruption of these teeth must be happening soon. Surely I could blame this 180° turn in behaviour on the evil teething monster. It's now nearly four months later, and while we've sailed clear of her behavioural rough patch there is still no sign of these molars. Don't be too quick to blame everything on teething, get to know the signs of teething so you can do the best by your child:
- Uncharacteristic grumpiness.
- Unsettled sleep.
- Excessive or increased dribbling.
- Chewing on toys, clothes, blankets and hands.
- Refusing food.
- Red cheeks.
- Grabbing at ears, particularly on the same side as the erupting tooth.
- MILD fever.
- MILD diarrhoea.
Some of these, especially fever and diarrhoea, can be an indication of an illness and not related to teething at all. It's always better to be safe when it comes to your child's health and have him/her checked by a doctor if there's any suspicion that he/she is not merely teething.
If you are confident your child doesn't need to be seen by a doctor, you can help them through teething using these simple ideas:
- Put a damp washcloth in the fridge, then give it to your child to chew.
- Use a commercially available teething ring. Many have a liquid-filled section designed to be chilled in the fridge. Don't freeze them, it's too cold for a little one's mouth.
- Give your child a rusk to chew on, remembering to steer clear of sugary snacks.
- Rub your child's gums gently with your washed finger.
I don't personally recommend teething gels, as in my experience the child swallows most of it. There are also popular homeopathic remedies commercially available, but there is scant evidence for their effectiveness.
When all else fails and my teething child is seriously distressed, a weight-appropriate dose of a children's painkiller is my last resort. Your dentist, pharmacist or GP can recommend one for your child's individual needs. Hey, if I was in pain I would take a couple of mild painkillers. Why should I expect my child to suffer where I as an adult would refuse to? They may not seem like it while they're teething, but they are human as well!