Why aren’t all babies born with teeth? It would surely save all the grief of painful teething. The answer? What else but breastfeeding! In fact, most mammals are born without teeth in order to comfortably nurse; as with us, their milk teeth emerge later (exceptions include the platypus, which never develops any teeth at all!)
For infant mammals of the human type, the average age for teething is around 5-6 months old, but some babies don’t get their first teeth until much later, and other little nippers are born with teeth. The usual order is the bottom front teeth, followed by the top front teeth. Then, the teeth either side appear, and on it goes until the back molars come through (apparently the most painful as they are the biggest). Most children have a full on grin of milk teeth by the time they are two and a half years old. Yes, teething lasts for TWO years! The photo below shows a tooth beginning to emerge at the lower right hand side of the baby’s mouth (and check out the beautifully untied tongue too!)
How do you know it’s teething?
At nearly four months, Pip doesn’t actually have any teeth yet, but he has recently appeared to be in the “pre-teething” stage which commonly happens around now: babies can experience symptoms for a couple of months before they get anything to show for it. Signs of teething include the following, all of which Pip has shown so far:
- red flushed cheeks or face
- heavy drooling
- gum rubbing, biting or sucking
- rubbing the ear
- irritable and unsettled
Other common things to watch out for include fretfulness at night, and disturbed feeds: fortunately, we haven’t had either of those (yet). However, one side effect Pip has had is a bit of nappy rash. This is not an official symptom of teething as the link hasn’t been proved; Patient.co.uk notes that “it is unclear why teething can lead to nappy rash although it is thought that it is due to your baby producing more saliva.” Certainly, in terms of nappies, Pip has gone from a once-a-day baby (occasionally even missing a day) to a three-or-four-times-a-day baby. It can’t be a coincidence! Anyway, Metanium seems to do the trick.
So what can we do about it?
There are several ways that the discomfort of teething can be eased. The NHS website provides a handy video here; in summary, the following tips are suggested:
- chewing on a cooled teething ring, or something edible such as a crust of bread or a carrot (obviously, this is only applicable once your baby has been weaned). Rusks are no longer recommended as they usually contain sugar.
- age-appropriate teething gel that can be rubbed on the gums.
Apart from the other common sense things such as wiping the drool from your baby’s chin and cuddling them if they seem distressed, there isn’t much else you can do about teething except weather the storm. One thing I have found to help Pip a bit is giving him my finger to chew on while simultaneously rubbing his lower gums. You can also try massaging your baby’s cheeks but when I tried this it made him more distressed!
One point to remember is that the first experience of teething is often the worst (apart from when the molars roll around) – babies may then get used to what is happening and be less distressed next time. Whether the parents get used to it is another question!
Even if there are only one or two teeth, and all that’s been consumed is milk, it’s recommended that you get into the habit of brushing them with a tiny bit of baby toothpaste. I can’t really imagine brushing Pip’s teeth in just a couple of months’ time but we’ll see! Babycentre does warn against breastfeeding your baby to sleep once they have teeth, as the milk can pool in the mouth and cause decay – so we’ll have to rethink our bedtime routine once that happens.
Thinking about nursing comfortably, it occurs to me that we got the tongue tie sorted in the nick of time: it was sore enough having gums rubbing against me when feeding, so imagine what sharp little teeth would have felt like! Thank goodness the tongue will be there to cushion any teeth that do eventually emerge…