This is one of the most controversial questions that parents can ask, because pediatricians do not widely agree on the existence, importance, or implications of teething pain in infants. In fact, during the majority of the 1800's and 1900's teething was blamed as a cause of a variety of things such as seizures, paralysis, and even death (H. Lea, 1869). More recently, however, doctors' opinions about the significance of teething has basically reversed, with some pediatricians claiming that teething does not cause pain at all, nor does is cause crying or lack of sleep (B. D. Schmitt, 1991). Most doctors, however, take a middle ground, claiming that teething can indeed be a painful process for some children, causing fussiness, increased saliva production, diarrhea, and even low-grade fevers in a small number of infants (Peretz, Ram, Hermida, & Otero, 2003).
Every baby is different, so whereas one baby might begin teething at 2 months of age, others may not begin until 6-9 months of age. That makes it hard to know when you can expect your baby to start showing signs of teething. Most parents, however, claim that they notice differences in their baby, such as increased fussiness, sleep problems, and lots of drooling. Sometimes parents also notice that their baby is putting his or her hands in their mouth more often, and this is thought to temporarily relieve pain by putting some pressure on the gums. Any or all of these symptoms can occur the night before the appearance of a new tooth, or sometimes several weeks prior. Because of all this variation, the diagnosis of teething pain is not only rare but very difficult to do with any degree of accuracy!
What can I do to help relieve teething pain?
There are several things that parents can do to help their baby through teething pain without giving them any medication:
1. Use a clean index finger to massage the baby's gums can help relieve pain. Typically a baby's first tooth comes in on the bottom front of the mouth, so try rubbing this area firmly but gently and slowly.
2. Give your baby something to chew on. Everyone loves Sophie the Giraffe, the most popular teething toy out there! There are also several products out there that you can put in the refrigerator or freezer to cool down and then give to your baby to chew on, and you can check them out on our annual best teething toys list. If you don't want to buy one of those products, you can but a wet washcloth in the refrigerator or freezer, then give it to your baby to chew on (always monitor your baby closely and never leave your baby unattended with a choking hazard).
3. Give your baby some textured things to chew on. Sometimes babies like chewing on ridged or textured objects, such as the handle of a hairbrush.
In some cases, however, you might choose to use some medications to help your baby get through the pain. Of course, always ask your doctor before beginning any treatment (see our full disclaimer here).
Medications for treating teething pain include:
1. Homeopathic teething tablets, such as the well-rated Hyland's Baby Oral Pain Relief Tablets.
3. Teething gels, such as Orajel or other products containing benzocaine can temporarily reduce pain, but can also excessively numb your baby's mouth. Also realize that these effects are short-lived and may not be great tasting to your baby! There are also some natural benzocaine alternatives, such as Camilia Teething Relief.