Teething Torture

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teethingA friend’s baby had the scariest looking teething experience I have ever seen. He had gums smeared with blood and gore as 4 teeth popped through simultaneously. It made even my steel stomach jump. Thankfully it was short lived and he was a happy baby despite the gore.

In the 1800’s some people actually believed teething could cause death. I suspect it was the treatment of teething (lancing the gums, applying leeches, cauterizing the back of a baby’s head) that was the real cause of death. There were teething powders made with mercury and teething toys made with animal bones (believed to bring the strength of the animal to fight off the pain). Today we continue to have some misconceptions about teething so I wanted to share some facts and myths with you.


  • Teething starts between 4 and 12 months and typically ends by 2 years of age.

  • Teething can cause “increased biting, drooling, gum-rubbing, sucking, irritability, wakefulness, ear-rubbing, facial rash, decreased appetite for solid foods, and mild temperature elevation”.1

  • Teething usually starts with the upper or lower central incisors (middle two teeth). After that the pattern and frequency of new teeth are really variable.

  • Teething does NOT cause significant fever (>102 fahrenheit), congestion, cough, ear infections, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms are more likely caused by bacteria or viruses and you should call your baby’s doctor if you are concerned.

Treatments NOT recommended:

  • Homeopathic teething tabs are not regulated by the FDA and therefore have no standardized testing methods to prove that they are produced in a safe manner or contain the ingredients listed on the box. None of these tabs have ever been able to prove any documented benefit in teething babies. In fact many of them contain belladonna, a substance known to have many toxic side effects including constipation, aggitation, and drowsiness. Please read more about the topic in this Q & A section by the FDA.

  • Teething gels have topical anesthetics like benzocaine. Rubbing it on the gums will only numb the area where it is directly applied, but it will do nothing for the tissue underneath that is actually  in direct contact with the budding tooth. These anesthetics are also not risk free and can cause a rare but sometimes deadly condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the bloodstream is greatly reduced. Please read more about this on the FDA’s website.

  • Amber necklaces. These are very reminiscent of the animal bone toys used in the 1800’s. They do not help with teething pain and pose a very real suffocation, strangulation and choking hazard to your infant.

 What can you do:

    Teething, like crying, is a normal developmental process for infants. There are helpful tips to try, but the only cure is time. The safest options are cold clean washcloths for chewing (you can even put them in the freezer for a few minutes for extra soothing), teething rings chilled in the fridge (not freezer), or frozen fruit in a choke free food feeder (once he is over 4 months old).  Massaging his gums and letting him chew on his own hands will also help. We also used acetaminophen for the roughest nights of teething. Just check the dosing with your baby’s doctor.


1 Macknin, ML et al. Symptoms associated with infant teething: a prospective study. Pediatrics. 2000 Apr;105(4 Pt 1):747-52.

Do you have any safe teething tips that worked for your baby?

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