Baby & Pregnancy

When Your Baby Starts Teething

When Your Baby Starts Teething
Written by Sarah

When will your baby start getting teeth? The vast majority of babies sprout their first teeth when they’re between 4 and 7 months of age. An early developer may get her first white cap as early as 3 months, while a late bloomer may have to wait until she’s a year or more. (In rare cases, a baby’s first tooth is already visible at birth.)

Teething patterns are hereditary, so if you got your teeth early, chances are your child will, too. The arrival of the first tooth is a big milestone: Celebrate it by taking lots of pictures, and note its arrival date in your child’s baby book.

Teeth actually start developing while your baby’s in the womb, when tooth buds form in the gums. They sprout one at a time over a period of months, and often — but not always — in this order: First the bottom front teeth, then the top two middle ones, then the ones along the sides going back. They may not all come in straight, but don’t worry — they usually straighten out over time. The last teeth to appear (the second molars, which are the farthest back in the mouth) are usually all in place by your baby’s second birthday. By age 3, your child should have a full set of 20 baby teeth, which shouldn’t fall out until her permanent teeth are ready to come in, sometime around age 6.


For a few fortunate babies, teething is fairly painless. But most babies are cranky and drool a lot for weeks or months before the first pearly white makes it to the surface. Why is teething usually so painful? As your baby’s teeth push their way out, they irritate the gums, swelling and inflaming them. This is why your baby may temporarily reject your breast or a bottle. Sucking rushes more blood to the swollen areas, making them especially sensitive. Try rubbing her gums before a feeding to temporarily numb the pain. Your baby will probably start to gnaw on things starting around 3 months, though her first tooth may still be a long way off.

Though many parents say their babies become feverish or have loose stools or runny noses just before a new tooth arrives, experts are divided over whether teething is to blame for these symptoms. William Sears, a pediatrician and author of The Baby Book, believes that teething will frequently cause diarrhea and a mild diaper rash because your baby’s excessive saliva ends up in her gut and loosens her stools. Inflammation in the gums, he thinks, may be the cause of a low fever (under 101 degrees Fahrenheit).

On the other hand, child-development experts such as Penelope Leach say teething cannot cause fever, diarrhea, vomiting or loss of appetite and that these are signs of illness that should be checked out. Noted pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton says it’s likely that such symptoms are due to an infection unrelated to teething, but that the stress associated with teething could make your child more vulnerable to infection right before a new tooth appears.

The one thing all experts agree on is that you should call your pediatrician if your baby has a fever over 101 degrees F (or over 100.4 degrees F for babies younger than 3 months). If your baby has loose stools — but not diarrhea — don’t worry. The condition will clear up on its own.

Your baby may get a red rash on his chin and lower lip from all the drooling. The wetness can irritate his skin, particularly at night when he rubs his face against his crib sheet. Wipe, but don’t rub, the drool off with a soft cotton cloth. You can also smooth Vaseline on his chin before a nap or bedtime to protect the skin from further irritation.

How to ease baby’s discomfort

Give your child something to chew on, such as a firm rubber teething ring or a cold washcloth. (You should be aware that soft plastic teethers might contain chemicals that may be linked to health problems such as cancer and infertility later in life.) If your baby is old enough for solid foods, he may also get some relief from eating cold foods such as applesauce or yogurt — the cold may temporarily numb the pain. Giving a baby a hard, unsweetened teething cracker such as zwieback to gnaw on (stale bagel slices also work well) is another time-honored trick. (Avoid carrots, as they can be a choking hazard.)

Some parents find that simply rubbing a finger over sore gums can numb the pain temporarily. Oral analgesics such as Orajel or Zylactin are popular and safe to use, but there’s no evidence they really work; more likely it’s the pressure of your finger applying it to the swollen gums that provides relief. Some pediatricians recommend giving a teething baby a small dose of children’s pain reliever such as Infant Tylenol, but check with your doctor before giving your baby any medication. (Never give a baby aspirin or even rub it on her gums to ease the pain; aspirin is associated with Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition.)

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