Tooth development begins in the fifth month of pregnancy, but your baby’s pearly whites probably won’t make their first appearance until he’s at least 6 months old. Teeth often appear in symmetrical pairs, allowing your baby to maintain a balanced look while in dental transition. The bottom two front teeth are generally the first to debut, followed by their counterparts on top between months 8 and 13. In subsequent months, more incisors erupt, followed by molars until—at last—your baby has his full set of 20 primary teeth by age 3.
Whether your baby cuts his teeth earlier or later than most is of little consequence. Early baby teeth are not symbolic of physical prowess or indicative of superior intelligence, no matter what that competitive mom in your playgroup may think. And you can be especially grateful for a late teether if you’re nursing!
Your baby may show early signs of teething weeks or months before she cuts her first tooth. Look for excessive drooling and gnawing on fingers, toys, clothing or anything else within reach. Irritability and restless behavior at night often indicate that a tooth will be breaking through in the next few days. The real pain associated with teething arises when the teeth push up through the gums, causing sensitivity and inflammation. Fever and diarrhea are often attributed to teething, but recent studies show that these symptoms are sometimes coincidental illnesses not linked to—or caused by—teething.
Every mother aches when she sees her baby in pain for the first time. The good news: there is no shortage of pain remedies available for the teething baby. For mild inflammation, allow him to chew on a cold teething ring (the frozen variety is still a popular option), a damp washcloth or a textured teething toy. You can also rub a clean finger along his gums for a couple minutes. A topical anesthetic such as Baby Orajel is a ready option when your baby’s gums are especially sore; call your doctor to discuss how often these gels can be used.
More intense pain or fever can be treated with baby-grade ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) after your doctor gives the go-ahead for these medications. Remember that aspirin is not recommended for anyone under age 20; its use has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
Taking care of that toothy grin
Dental care for a baby? That’s right—it’s important to keep those primary teeth pearly. Your baby will thank you later!
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends bringing your baby in to see a pediatric dentist when her first tooth appears or before her first birthday. At this point, dentistry is mostly preventative, setting your baby up for a lifetime of good dental health.
At home, begin cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear. Use water and a baby toothbrush, finger brush or washcloth to gently clean the teeth. Save the fluoride toothpaste until age 2 or 3.
Beware of biter!
Is it possible to nurse a teething baby without suffering daily flesh wounds? A teething baby is likely to bite or chew anything that crosses his path. This can create severe unpleasantness for the nursing mother.
To keep the gnawing to a minimum, make sure your baby is properly latched on while feeding. When he is not actively sucking, break the latch and pull away. Your baby may also bite just to get your attention; if you focus on him during feeding instead of a book or TV show, he might deem the biting unnecessary. And if all else fails, take a break and pump for a couple days!