Teething is the stuff of parenting nightmares. All of a sudden, your sweet, cuddle bundle of joy is an angry, teething ball of angst. Some babies hit the teething months without a single symptom, and others struggle for months. For everyone in the house, it can be a desperate battle to restore peace and happiness to your little one.
Cutting teeth is a natural part of child development so you know at some point it will hit your house. When our first baby began teething, we tried everything in the books to help them get over it as quickly and painlessly as possible. With the last three, we’ve got the system down pat and no longer have to worry about a tyrannical teething baby on our hands.
You might be wondering how to help your own baby cope with the teething months. There are several great, natural methods that you can use that will help your baby and your sanity.
How do I know if my baby is teething?
Let’s go on the record here: teething is different for every baby. Yours may deal with every symptom in the book, or suddenly have teeth in their mouth without a peep. You know your baby and what’s normal for them better than anyone else. If you see unusual signs or behavior from them, you’re the one best equipped to make a call on whether or not it could be teething.
When does teething start?
Well, to be super helpful here, teething can start at literally any time in your baby’s infant years. Some babies are born with teeth – rarely – but it happens. In general, though, teething starts between four and eight months. For some babes, teething can go on for weeks before the first tooth pops through the gums. Others seem to just have a new tooth or two one day.
If your baby gets teeth before or after this point, don’t worry about it. It’s all normal. Our first three got their first pair of teeth in at four, ten, and nine months, respectively. Some kiddos even get them significantly later than that. As a matter of fact, your pediatrician isn’t even going to be concerned if your fifteen-month-old baby still doesn’t have a couple of teeth. Delayed teething only becomes a problem after around eighteen months of age.
What does teething look like?
Usually, the only visible tell-tale signs of teething are “nubs” on the gums. They’re just little raised spots from the emerging teeth pushing the gum up. These are the spots that the tooth will eventually cut through. You may also notice your baby has red cheeks. Neither of these things is something to worry about.
What are the symptoms of teething?
First, let’s talk about some things that are not teething symptoms. It’s easy to misinterpret the cues your baby is giving you. Teething does not give your baby a high-grade fever or vomiting. These are signs of illness and should be dealt with accordingly.
What teething does cause, depending on the child are:
- Low-grade fever
- Fussiness, especially when feeding
- Diaper rash
- Change in sleep routine
As we’ve stated before, you may notice some, all, or none of these symptoms depending on your child. For us, all of our children got terrible diaper rashes while teething, but no other symptoms. It’s also worth noting that most pediatricians now say diaper rashes aren’t a symptom of teething. From our experience, it happened with ours and stopped when the teeth emerged. Your own children will probably be different, and you’ll have to deal with their unique situation.
This study documented the prevalence of three common teething symptoms in 1,100 babies. You clearly can watch out for fever, drooling, and diarrhea, but they may not manifest at all. There is no clear-cut list of teething symptoms for all babies.
Should I use a teether?
If your baby will take a teething toy, go for it! That’s awesome! Some babies will outright reject them, though, so be prepared. It’s a good idea to only grab one at a time to introduce to your baby so that you don’t have a sea of unused teething rings filling your home.
You do want to make sure you choose teething rings made from safe materials for your baby. Virtually 100% of plastic teethers, even those labeled BPA-free, contained bisphenol-A. Bisphenol-A is an endocrine disruptor and mimics hormones, causing your baby’s natural hormonal system to get out of whack. BPA is leached into the baby’s system every time the plastic toy is sucked or chewed on.
If your baby is especially grumpy and gnaws on anything within reach, a teething toy may greatly help reduce his discomfort. The gentle pressure on their sore gums helps them relieve the pain and work the teeth through the gums.
Natural and safe materials used to make teethers
All is not lost if you’re unwilling to give your developing baby a toy that will harm her development. We aren’t either! There are a few great, non-toxic solutions for easing teething pain without causing further harm.
Wooden teething toys
Wood is a beautiful material for baby products. It is chemical-free and toxin-free. So when your baby sucks and chews on it, they’re not getting anything but relief. Because wood can be carved into amazing shapes, you can find genuinely stunning teething toys. They are the epitome of old-fashioned and cool.
Like anything, wooden teethers do have some downsides. It is naturally porous, so germs and water can enter into the wood and lie in wait. Most wooden teethers come sealed with olive oil or beeswax; you’ll have to periodically reapply one of these to keep the wood gorgeous and strong.
While it’s unlikely a baby can do it, wood can be broken fairly easily, especially if you have older children. When wood breaks, it usually has sharp edges that can splinter and harm your baby. Keep an eye out for damaged toys and get rid of them as needed.
Silicone teething toys
Silicone is ubiquitous in safe teething toys. It is a compound made from carbon and silicon that has a texture somewhere between rubber and plastic. It is entirely non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and easily disinfected. It is softer than wood and a bit more gentle on extra irritated gums.
Thankfully, there aren’t really any downsides to silicone products. They’re inexpensive and cute. You typically find them as beads attached to a mommy necklace for your baby to munch on while you carry them or on teething rings. Because of the lack of malleability of silicone, it doesn’t come in a wide variety of shapes. But, this thing is for a baby to chew on, not for decoration.
Natural rubber teething toys
Natural rubber is a wonderful material for teething toys because it is naturally antimicrobial, resists damage from chewing, and is biodegradable. You can find charming natural rubber teething toys because of the extreme malleability of rubber.
In general, even parents with a latex allergy can give their baby a natural rubber teether. There are two species of rubber plants that make a hypoallergenic rubber that does not cause a latex allergy reaction. While we don’t strictly recommend doing this if you have reason to believe your baby might have an allergy, you are of course welcome to do your own research and find a hypoallergenic brand.
Some people are opposed to rubber because of the need to use the tropical rubber plant Havea brasilienis. It is important to note that many manufacturers now are using responsibly farmed and sustainable practices to produce rubber products. Finding companies with an ethical outlook on their impact on our health and world supports small companies and families.
Home remedies and alternatives to teethers
You don’t have to use any funky oral numbing gels to help your baby through the discomfort of teething. The National Center for Health Research details the health effects and concerns of using over-the-counter benzocaine products on babies. There is a risk of fatality associated with these teething remedies. It’s just not worth the risk to your baby, no matter how unpleasant their teething symptoms are.
There are several helpful, effective solutions you can use to help get your baby through cutting those sweet little teeth. We’ve used a combination of all of these with our own children with great success.
Cool, damp washcloth
Your grandmother probably advised you to do this, and you may have shrugged it off as a wive’s tale. Nope. It really does work well to soothe the pain from inflamed gums and calm your baby.
All you have to do for this one is to wet and wring out a washcloth and stash it in the fridge. When your baby is feeling a bit cranky from the pain of teething, take out the washcloth and let her suck and chew on it. It helps to keep a few at a time in a special bin in the refrigerator, so you always have one on hand.
What you don’t want to do it put the washcloths in the freezer. The cold is too much and can damage the very delicate skin inside your baby’s mouth. If you do put them in the freezer, you’ll have to take one out a few minutes before giving it to your baby so that it can thaw and warm up to a safe level. This extra step isn’t really something you want to fuss with when the baby is bawling right now.
Amber teething necklace
These have become pretty popular but also controversial. Some people swear they don’t work. Others say they can’t get through without them. There is a natural analgesic in amber called succinic acid. The heat from your baby’s body is said to release the succinic acid so it can get absorbed through their skin, alleviating their pain. People who object say there is no proof the succinic acid is absorbed and dislike the fact that a baby has a necklace around their neck. They worry it might cause a risk of strangulation.
With that said, try to use common sense. Our babies don’t wear the necklace when we aren’t with them. When they are in their crib, it’s taken off, and we don’t allow the other children to touch it, so they don’t accidentally injure the baby. You’ll have to make your own decision on if this one works for you and your family.
Myths about teething
Everyone has an opinion about teething babies and how to handle it. I’m no exception. Here are a few common myths about teething that really aren’t true, no matter how you spin it.
Teething has to be treated
Teething isn’t a medical condition. Your baby is not broken, sick, or injured. They’re going through a perfectly normal childhood milestone. They don’t need medication to “fix” teething symptoms.
All teething products are safe or else they wouldn’t be on the market
How we all wish this were true. We already discussed the presence of BPA in 100% of plastic children’s teethers, even the “BPA-free” ones. The worst part? BPA is banned from use in baby cups, pacifiers, and toys! Just because you can buy it, doesn’t mean you should.
Early teethers have bad tooth spacing
Good news! This is totally false. If your baby cut their first teeth at two months old, they have as good of a chance as a baby who cut theirs at twelve months old to have a great smile. The biggest secret is their nutrition. Ever heard of Dr. Weston Price? He proved over one hundred years ago that a natural diet of real foods prevents poor tooth spacing and cavities.
Teething can make your baby sick
Your baby may cry and get worked up enough to spit up lunch when teething, but this doesn’t mean your baby is sick. We all know pathogens make us sick. No yucky germs, no illness. Sometimes a baby will get sick while teething, but genuine teething symptoms are much milder than those caused by a bug. If your baby is not keeping anything down, has prolonged diarrhea, high-grade fever, or lethargy, those are not caused by teething.
Teething is a natural process and takes time. You might be eager to figure out if and when your baby will cut his first tooth. There’s no hard and fast way to be sure, other than to keep an eye on your little one and hope you find the tooth before you get bitten with it.
Teething can be a difficult time for families, even if you’re a seasoned parent. Since all babies react differently, it can be very trying to figure out what’s wrong and how to help. Breathe. Your baby will get through it, and so will you. Before long they’ll be beaming at you with a charming little smile full of adorable teeth, and you’ll forget all about the horrors of teething.
We hope these tips and tricks for taking care of your baby while they’re teething help restore some peace to the house. If your baby isn’t teething yet, great! You’ll be all ready to go when the day comes. Whether you choose teethers, washcloths, or a laissez-faire approach, we know you’ll do great.