Teething is associated with the natural "eruption" of your child's teeth, the process whereby the enamel surfaces of the teeth make their way through the gums to appear, or erupt, in the mouth. This normally happens when the crown of the tooth is fully formed and the roots are one third formed.
Teething in infants is typically uncomfortable and can be associated with restlessness, thumb-sucking, gum-rubbing, increased production of saliva, drooling and/or loss of appetite. As the first teeth typically appear at around 6 months of age, teething may cause your baby to wake in the night at a time when they have just started to sleep through.
Common symptoms of teething include biting, drooling, gum-rubbing, irritability and sucking a few days before, then during and immediately after the enamel surfaces of the teeth come through. Incisor teeth in the lower jaw are normally the first to appear. Prior to teething commencing, the teeth can often be seen sitting below the surface as white patches through your child's gums before they begin to erupt.
Easing the pain
The aptly named teething ring has been used for centuries to help relieve the pain of teething and is still an ideal solution. As your baby chews the ring, it applies pressure to the gums.
Many commercially available teething rings contain a liquid within a plastic casing that allows it to be frozen first, with the cold further increasing its effectiveness.
Even though teething occurs from 6 months of age through to the late teens and early 20’s, it is rarely an issue once children reach school age. In older children, pressure can also be applied to the gums in this manner in other ways, such as chewing crusty bread, or holding ice wrapped in a cloth or fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables. Mild pressure can also be applied with a clean finger or a cold spoon.
Teething is a perfectly natural process and does not cause serious health problems such as high fever, vomiting, convulsions or diarrhoea. If these problems coincide with your child teething, then they may indicate a more serious unrelated condition that should be addressed by your health professional.
Medications can be used to treat the pain and minor inflammation associated with teething if simple remedies do not provide sufficient relief. Sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen in formulations suitable for the relevant age of your child reduce pain and fever.
Choline salicylate, the active ingredient of several topical pain medications commercially sold for teething issues such as Bonjela Teething Gel™, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory salicylate drug similar to aspirin. Salicylates should not be given to children or teenagers within 6 weeks of the influenza virus vaccine (for seasonal influenza or swine flu), or when recovering from chicken pox or flu-like symptoms, as this may increase the possibility of Reye’s syndrome (a severe disorder of the gastro-intestinal and nervous systems). Many paediatricians and pharmacists tell people to avoid choline salicylate preparations in teething for this reason.
What not to do
Adding sugar, honey or jam to feeding bottles or dipping a pacifier in honey or jam has absolutely no pain relieving effect, and will cause tooth decay. Repeated application of alcohol to the mucous membrane of an infant is ineffective and due to an infant's small body weight, may lead to severe problems.