Helping your teething child

Q: What can I do to help my child get through teething?

A: Teething usually first occurs starting at about 4 to 7 months old. Usually the front top or bottom two teeth emerge first. (If your infant is older than 7 months and still doesn’t have any teeth showing, don’t worry. Teething times can vary dramatically.)

Teething can cause mild irritability, crying, drooling, low-grade fevers (but not higher than 101 degrees) and an increased desire to chew on everything. 

Gums around the teeth that are erupting can swell, appear redder and become tender. It’s thought that teething pain is mostly associated with when the teeth first erupt through the gums. After that time, pain typically decreases or resolves, even if the teeth continue to emerge from the gum. 

Giving your son something firm to chew on can make teething feel less painful. Options including teething toys, such as a firm rubber teething ring, a damp washcloth that’s been frozen, frozen bananas or other fruit, a frozen or cold bagel or teething biscuits. 

If you’ve already introduced a sippy cup (usually OK for infants older than 6 months), you could try offering a slow-flow sippy cup filled with chilled water. Both the cool water and the cool drinking spout can help decrease teething pain. 

I don’t recommend teething toys that have liquid inside them because it’s possible these could break open and cause a child to accidentally swallow the liquid.

Parents often ask me about topical teething gels. I usually recommend against them for two reasons: I find them to not be very helpful. A teething infant typically drools so much that the medication washes off very quickly, so the pain relief is very short-lived. 

Second, it’s possible to apply too much gel. The medication it contains to provide pain relief, at high doses, can cause serious side effects for young infants. 

If the pain is clearly unbearable for your child, however, and the non-medication pain relief options aren’t sufficient, I recommend using low-dose Tylenol or Ibuprofen (for infants older than 6 months) for better pain relief.