Teething: Myths, Facts, Do’s and Don’ts

Photo by Chrisbwah

Eruption of the primary teeth usually begins between 4-7 months of age, although some babies won’t have their first teeth until 12 months or later. New teeth will continue to appear until about 3 years of age, when most children have the full complement of 20 primary teeth. Many parents await that first toothy grin with much anticipation, but teething can also be a source of some concern and questions. There are a lot of myths out there, both in terms of teething symptoms and remedies. Here’s the low down.

Myth: Teething causes fever. This is a big one. Many, many people (including health professionals) attribute fever to teething. The truth is, studies have shown that teething causes, at most, a mild temperature elevation. If your infant has a true fever (above 100.4F or 38 Celsius) it is unlikely to be caused by teething, especially if it continues for a number of days.

Myth: Teething causes diarrhea. Again, the available data doesn’t support teething as a cause of true diarrhea. If your child has a diarrheal illness, it is most likely to be caused by a virus.

For young infants, both fever and diarrhea are a reason to talk with your child’s health care provider and should not be attributed to teething alone.

Fact: Teething can cause mild pain, drooling, and mouthing behaviors. Some infants will also have fussiness and sleep disturbance. In many babies, these symptoms are transient and really don’t require special treatment. In others, though, they can be troublesome for both infants and parents. So, what’s the best way for parents to soothe their babies’ teething woes? Here are a few do’s and don’ts.

Don’t use benzocaine based teething gels. The FDA has again recently released a warning regarding these products. The FDA tells us, “the use of benzocaine gels and liquids for mouth and gum pain can lead to a rare but serious—and sometimes fatal—condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced.” The risk seems to be greatest for children under two years old.

Don’t use Hyland Teething Tablets
. The most common form of Hyland Teething Tablets has an ingredient called belladonna. When consumed in higher than recommended doses, this ingredient can cause serious side effects such as excessive sleepiness and difficulty breathing. Analysis has shown that these teething tablets contain varying amounts of belladonna, and overdose has occurred. In 2010 the company added a child-resistant cap and changed the formulation in order to improve safety. However, the efficacy of the tablets is still unproven. In my opinion, the risk still outweighs the benefit.

Do massage sore little gums with your finger or a cool cloth.

Do give your teething infant a cool rubber teething ring.

If your child still seems to have significant pain, contact your health care provider to discuss whether a small dose of oral pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be indicated.

Do start cleaning your child’s gums and new teeth in order to protect those pearly whites from cavities.

Was teething a big issue for your child, or did they sail through? What remedies worked best?

13 thoughts on “Teething: Myths, Facts, Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Hi Heidi we have some nice homeopathic medication which doctors prescribe here. It is very mild and it worked for us.Thanks for this article. Flavia’s mouth looks just like this : )

    • Hi friend, thanks for reading. I certainly support homeopathic remedies that are safe and effective. I’m glad you have found something that works for little Flavia.

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  3. We hardly noticed when my daughter was teething, but my son is a different story. It causes major sleep disruption, for weeks and weeks! Luckily, his fourth 2-year molar just broke through so we are on the home-stretch!
    We rely on tylenol and advil.

  4. Hmmmm then how is it that both of my children had diarrhea EVERY time they got a new tooth? The excess saliva produced by teething causes looser stools and running nose in some children.

    • Cilla- Thanks for your comment. Anecdotally, a number of parents in my practice have reported similar experience with teething and diarrhea. However, when studies have looked at this in a systematic way, the association has not proved out, which is why I stand by calling it a myth. The “excess saliva” theory similarly lacks evidence. Having said all of that, parents know their kids best. It may be that mild changes in stool during teething are simply too small to see in study results.

      However, writing off true diarrhea as being related to teething alone is not a good idea. It is far more likely to be due to a viral illness, and, if significant, should be discussed with your child’s health care provider.

      • I have the same problem. Though i have my baby checked by our doctor she told us that it has nothing to do with teething. The worst thing is that even she has checked my baby already she is still undetermined what causes the diarrhea. We undergo stool test and the result was that there’s a fat globules and no parasites found. Just before he had a diarrhea my baby also experienced having a mild fever of 37.5 degrees celcius top. What could be the possible reason? She also said that if the diarrhea will not go away in days, my baby has to be confined in a hospital for further assesment and that i was not comfortable with. Please help. Thanks…

      • Dear Adolf, I’m so sorry you are going through this with your child. Uncertainty about the cause of your child’s illness is very difficult. Unfortunately, given that your question regards your child’s specific illness it is not something I can answer here on-line. Specific diagnosis would require in person examination and discussion. I encourage you to continue to work with your child’s health care provider. Best wishes for a resolution.

  5. My son not only runs a fever but he throws up and gets diarrhea he is working on his bottom eye teeth and is miserable. We would be lost without hylands teething pellets, this is the first place I’ve seen something negative about them.

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  7. my mother is from the south and my children was teething she told me to get one of there socks put an egg in it and place it over the door where they slept and it cuts teething is that true or a myth my companion said so but i did it and none of my four children had teething trouble.

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  9. I have five children (now all adults) and they all were all different like everything else with children. However the best thing I found for soothing their discomfort in the teething process was to get the softest baby toothbrush there is on the market in your area and brush their gums several times a day. It seemed to help with any pain they might have been experiencing and helped keep the mouth clean. You don’t want to use any kind of toothpaste, just the toothbrush with maybe a little cold water on it. I would like to think that it also helped with how the tooth breaks through the gum but of course I have no scientific studies that back that theory. I used a little Orajel (natural ingredients), teething rings, and sometimes Tylenol but not much of these.

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