Teething As a Natural Process
Teething can be defined as the eruption through the gums of the primary teeth.This is also called the deciduous or milk teeth.
Teething is a normal undertaking that occurs in babies as they mature and get ready to take on the world and what it has to offer ranging from eating and actually chewing , for example meat, to crushing bones at some point as they grow to maturity.
Now let me teach you a tiny bit of anatomy.
During the 6th week of embryonic life or in-utero (this is when the baby is still in the womb and just an embryo) the formation of embryonic cells or toothbuds which eventually form the teeth commences. By 8th week, the tooth buds of all the primary teeth can be discerned and by 20 weeks the tooth buds of permanent teeth start to develop.
The first set of primary teeth start to erupt usually at 6 months. It is a bit earlier in some babies. My daughter started teething at 5 months.
As we all know there are 2 sets of teeth: the baby teeth and the permanent teeth.
The decidous teeth are usually 20 and they have differential rate of growth which are shed at different times over a 20 year period.
The permanent teeth (Incisors, Canines, Premolar, and molar) are 32 in number.
So enough of all these anatomy or embryology stuffs !
Teething is a big deal and the very precursor to it is initiated long before the baby is even born!
For babies it is very serious and for the mother it is almost traumatic when you see your beloved baby in distress yet cannot do anything about it.
So over the years, mothers being who they are (very loving and protective) have come up with various things to do to help babies as they have this "right of passage" or as they go through this physiologic process.
Let us talk about some myths surrounding teething.
MYTH 1: "Teething causes fever".
FACT : Teething does not cause fever. Around the time the pearly whites start coming in usually coincides with when the babies start putting everything in their mouth which make them at risk for various infections. Fever could be an association with teething but not a cause of fever.
- I have seen many mothers in my consultation room who bring their teething babies and expect that I prescribe some strong, powerful medication that would make "it" all go away. Many of them leave feeling disappointed because the truth is no such medication exist for teething! The truth they say is bitter.
MYTH 2: "Baby teeth are not that important after all they will still fall off".
FACT:Yes, they are temporary and will eventually fall off but they are essential for chewing food, to get proper and essential nutrition (process of digestion starts in the mouth with chewing ), they help with the structure of the face and they hold up space for the permanent teeth to come in properly.
If a tooth is lost to tooth decay, the other teeth could shift so there is not enough space for the permanent teeth to grow in. Also babies need their teeth for speech to properly pronounce words like l,th and sh .
MYTH 3: "You should brush your baby's teeth once daily".
FACT: Brushing the teeth once daily is not enough. Twice daily is better. This is because it takes about 24 hours for the plaque that causes tooth decay to build up and brushing once a day would not get rid of all the plaque. Brushing twice a day would increase the likelihood of more thorough plaque removal.
MYTH 4: "Kids should not have fluoride toothpaste until they are 2 years old".
FACT: This was once the thought but now experts advocate for use of fluoride toothpaste right from the start.The reason flouride was once delayed is the fact that too much of it causes white spots on the teeth or rough and pitted teeth surfaces and children tend to swallow toothpaste rather than spit it out.That is why it should be used sparingly.
MYTH 5: "Babies can't get cavities".
FACT: Any baby that has teeth can get cavities. Hence the need to take the oral health of babies very seriously. A cavity in a baby's teeth can lead to infection and abscess formation causing pain and inflammation. Nobody wants that for innocent babies.
The following are associated signs and symptoms associated with teething which has been statistically proven :
- Drooling(excessive salivation)
- Slight rise in temperature
- Running nose
- Sleep disturbance
- Loss of appetite
How to ease Teething pain
- Give the child BPA-free teething toys.
- You can chill a damp wash cloth in the fridge(not freezer) and give the baby to chew on. It is very soothing to their aching gums.
- Massage gums with clean fingers
- For those already taking solids you can give them fruits like carrot and cucumbers cooled and cut up onto longitudinal pieces.
- Cold water in their sippy cup cold be helpful
- Rubber teething rings are also helpful
- Give infant Tylenol based on the doctor's recommendation
Be very careful of anesthetic containing gels and teething necklaces.
The Benzocaine contained in these gel is associated with methemoglobinemia (though rare, but never say never in medicine!)This is when oxygen in the blood stream becomes dangerously low. So I would suggest natural means to relieve teething pain.
In a bid to use more natural things some mothers use the Baltic amber teething necklace.
The amber gems in the necklace releases succinic acid in response to the warmth of the child's body and absorbed through the child's skin.Thereby causing a natural analgesic effect.I found no scientific evidence to support this claim.
Now I am not a prophet of doom but heard about a true life story of an 18-month-old boy who died after he was strangulated by his amber teething necklace while taking a nap at his daycare on October 5th 2016 in California. Very sad and I feel so sorry for his mom. Some parents are not aware of the risk, however some are but ignore them.The risks are real.
These teething necklaces are almost useless and very dangerous. According to a study done they pose no significant health benefit.
Canadian authorities offer stern warning against the use of these necklaces.
Important tips on Teeth care
- Before the baby has any teeth clean her mouth and gums with damp washcloth and when the teeth come in use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
- Once a baby has at least two teeth touching each other you need to floss.There are paediatric dental floss.
- Never allow your baby go to bed with a bottle of milk or juice.A ready feast for bacteria which causes plaque build-up and nasty cavities.If you have seen the picture of a cavity, it is not pretty!
- Ensure your baby sees a dentist after the first tooth erupts or by their first birthday.This is the recommendation of the American Association of Pediatrics.
- For drooling babies kept a soft cloth or bib nearby to clean up the saliva to prevent irritation to their sensitive skin.
Teething is a natural process, almost a "right of passage" for every child. May they have is easy.
"Watching teething babies is like watching over a thermonuclear reactor- it is best done in shifts, by well-rested people."
(Four Seasons in Rome)