Why do babies get miserable when they’re teething?

Babies are born with a full set of teeth underneath their gums, which begin to push through between the ages of six and twelve months.

Teething happens in stages, typically beginning with the bottom teeth, (often referred to as pegs) followed by the top middle teeth.  The remaining teeth continue cutting through the gums up until the child is around three years old.

Each child is different, as is each teething episode. For the most part however, it’s not a pleasant experience. Your baby’s milk teeth (called deciduous or baby teeth) develop in the womb as little tooth buds. At around the 6th week of pregnancy, they develop as “dental lamina”, starting at the front of the mouth and towards the back.

While teething is natural, it causes your baby much discomfort. There are some tried and true methods to help relieve their pain like rubbing your child’s gums with a damp washcloth, a clean finger, a special gum-rubbing finger pad, or teething gel.  Most parents also make use of teething rings.

Introducing harder foods to your baby’s diet, like cold fruit and vegetables, can also ease teething discomfort.

Symptoms of teething may include rashes, drooling, brief bouts of diarrhea, crankiness, loss of appetite and mild temperatures.  The symptoms are never severe and don’t last too long, usually followed by the appearance of a new tooth.

While not all children are miserable when teething, many experience symptoms which leave them feeling uncomfortable and cause them to act “moodily”.  Teething also disrupts sleeping habits which could also account for a baby’s change in mood.  According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, the pain from teething may be enough to wake a baby from sleep and studies involving over 125 sets of parents said that their teething babies experienced disrupted sleeping patterns.

An illness can sometimes masquerade as teething; here are some symptoms to help parents’ differentiate between the two:

  • Runny nose:  Teething mucus or drool doesn’t run out of the baby’s nose, if your child has a runny nose, they may have a cold.
  • Fever:  Teething doesn’t usually produce a fever, if your little one’s temperature is above 38˚C, it may indicate a viral or bacterial infection.
  • Ear-pulling:  This action might be more related to teething than an actual infection.  If your baby is pulling or grabbing at their ear and also very fussy, you may want your doctor to check both the teeth and ears.
  • Persistent symptoms:  Teething symptoms are typically mild. If your baby seems to be getting sicker, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.

Babies go through a lot of change in their first year, including teething.  All parents can do is try to ease their discomfort as much as possible and wait for those pearly whites to emerge.

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