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Teething: Tips for soothing sore gums

Drooling, crankiness and tears can make teething an ordeal for babies and parents alike. Here's information to help ease the pain — for both of you.

What's typical?

Although timing varies widely, babies often begin teething by about age 6 months. The two bottom front teeth (lower central incisors) are usually the first to appear, followed by the two top front teeth (upper central incisors).

Classic signs and symptoms of teething include:

  • Drooling
  • Chewing on objects
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Sore or tender gums
  • Low-grade rectal fever of 99 F (37.2 C)

Many parents suspect that teething causes higher fever and diarrhea, but researchers say they aren't indications of teething. If your baby has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or diarrhea, talk to your doctor.

What's the best way to soothe sore gums?

If your teething baby seems uncomfortable, consider these simple tips:

  • Rub your baby's gums. Use a clean finger or moistened gauze pad to rub your baby's gums. The pressure can ease your baby's discomfort.
  • Keep it cool. A cold washcloth, spoon or chilled teething ring can be soothing on a baby's gums. Don't give your baby a frozen teething ring, however.
  • Try hard foods. If your baby is eating solid foods, you might offer something edible for gnawing — such as a peeled and chilled cucumber or carrot. Keep a close eye on your baby, however. Any pieces that break off might pose a choking hazard.
  • Dry the drool. Excessive drooling is part of the teething process. Having a teething ring, fingers or other objects in the mouth produces saliva. To prevent skin irritation, keep a clean cloth handy to dry your baby's chin. Consider applying a moisturizer such as a water-based cream or lotion.
  • Try an over-the-counter remedy. If your baby is especially cranky, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Children's Motrin, others) might help.

Avoid homeopathic teething tablets and teething medications that contain the pain reliever benzocaine or lidocaine. They can be harmful — even fatal — to your baby.

Do I need to call the doctor?

Teething can usually be handled at home. Contact the doctor if your baby develops a fever, seems particularly uncomfortable, or has other signs or symptoms of illness that could be unrelated to the teething.

How do I care for my baby's new teeth?

Ideally, you've been running a clean, damp washcloth or a soft infant toothbrush over your baby's gums every day. If not, now's a great time to start. The cleansing can keep bacteria from building up in your baby's mouth.

When your baby's first teeth appear, use a small, soft-bristled toothbrush. Until your child learns to spit — at about age 3 — use a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than the size of a grain of rice. Then switch to a pea-sized dollop as they approach 2 to 3 years of age.

It's also time to think about regular dental checkups. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend scheduling a child's first dental visit after the first tooth erupts and no later than his or her first birthday.

Your baby's teeth and gums will also be examined at well-baby checkups. Remember, regular childhood dental care helps set the stage for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

Last updated: January 27th, 2018

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