Many myths abound about teething but there are just as many legitimate symptoms. I’ve learned much about this topic working in the field of Pediatrics as a Nurse Practitioner and I’m going to pass these tidbits on to you. There are many symptoms of teething that cannot be found in a book that are, in my opinion, real. Yet there is disagreement on many of these symptoms. One example is teething and fever. The timing and order of tooth eruption is very well accepted while the physical and behavioral signs can be more vague.
The timing of tooth eruption is variable and can occur any time between four and twelve months of age. It is different for each child but may follow the pattern that their parents or grandparents did. So there may be a hereditary component to the dentition process. I have learned, through my experience with children, that babies will erupt one or two teeth at a time if they begin the process early on and will erupt many teeth at once if they begin the process later.
The teeth erupt in a logical order for most infants with the lower central incisors as the first two teeth to erupt. Next, the upper central incisors erupt, followed by the lateral upper and lower incisors. The four molars are the next to erupt and then the canine teeth. The teeth erupt when the jaw has grown large enough to allow for the space they require in the mouth. An interesting fact about teeth is that they hold space in the jaw to allow for and stimulate normal growth of the facial bones. So, baby teeth are important in the development of the face and allow the permanent teeth to develop fully protected below the gum line.
When the first teeth begin to erupt, there is a noticeable increase in the size of the gums, with swelling and thickening. There is also a change in the color of the gums to a deeper, redder color. Many babies experience a decrease in appetite, may have looser stools and have a runny nose or congestion. What many people do not know is that babies will spit up a lot when their teeth are erupting. If the infant already spits up, the amount will increase while it will just begin occurring in an infant that does not spit up. The physical sign most misunderstood is drooling. Babies typically begin drooling around four months old regardless of whether their teeth are erupting or not. The salivary glands begin functioning around this time and can be associated with teething but does not necessarily mean that they absolutely are beginning the process. What is completely true is that drooling increases when babies are teething. The most controversial symptom is fever. Many believe that babies can develop fever with teething and an equal number believe they do not. In my experience, babies only develop a temperature over 101 degrees when their molars and canine teeth are erupting.
Many of the behavioral signs of teething can also be signs of other things happening in a baby. One of them is fussing. Babies fuss not only when they are teething, but when they are tired, over stimulated, want to be picked up, etc. Babies put their hands in their mouth when tooth eruption is occurring but this is also a developmental skill they learn at four months of age. This is when babies learn that they can deliberately get their own hands in their mouth and because exploring the world is done with their mouth at this age, infants mouth every last square inch of their hands and fists. It is also a way that they soothe themselves.
Babies tug on their ears when teething but they also pull on their ears to play with them and may be a sign that they just found those things that are on the sides of their head. Many infants have nighttime awakenings when their teeth are erupting but nighttime awakenings can also occur around six months old because infant’s sleep cycles change at this time. Instead of going into a deep sleep right away, they begin going through the four sleep cycles like adults d. This occurs around six months old. When they are in their light sleep phase, babies wake themselves and then fuss and cry for their parents. One last sign of teething is clinging behavior. Babies become more attached to their parents and do not want to be put down when they are experiencing mouth pain.
Signs of teething can be misinterpreted for other things and can lead parents to believe their child is teething. Regardless of what behaviors your child is showing, the fact remains that their teeth will come in when they want to anyway. Your baby will mouth their hands, drool and fuss when they decide to. Hopefully, this information will help you muddle through the teething process. Most importantly, enjoy your baby and the time you have with them because it goes way too fast!
Ann Lewis, ARNP, MHCI, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Mental Health Counseling Intern, Certified Life Coach (CTA), Expert Author. Employed by Community Christian Counseling Center & Palm Beach Pediatrics.
Blog: Child’s Play Parenting http://childsplayparenting.blogspot.com