Somewhere around your baby’s 6-month birthday, he or she may begin cutting teeth. But like many milestones, there is a wide range of normal when it comes to teething. Don’t be surprised if your baby’s first tooth shows up at 2 months old (like my youngest) or if he or she is still toothless at 12 months old (like my oldest).
It's exciting for parents to mark the arrival of baby's first tooth, but your baby may be less than happy about this new development. As teeth push and erupt through the gums, baby will experience drooling, swelling and pain in his gums. He may be abnormally cranky and have trouble sleeping and eating for a few days. He may spit up or develop mild diarrhea or a rash from all the drool. Other teething symptoms to watch for: mild fever, congestion and ear pulling.
The best thing you can do to help him get through it is to find ways to minimize the pain and irritation.
While you may consider reaching for over-the-counter teething gels or tablets, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against it. In 2017, they found inconsistent amounts of belladonna, a toxic substance, in certain homeopathic teething tablets, sometimes far exceeding the amount claimed on the label. The FDA recommends parents stop using these products immediately and cautions they may still be on store shelves.
"The body’s response to belladonna in children under two years of age is unpredictable and puts them at unnecessary risk," said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "We recommend that parents and caregivers not give these homeopathic teething tablets to children."
The FDA also cautions parents about using teething bracelets and necklaces. In December 2018, the agency issued a warning after receiving several reports of babies suffocating and choking.
"We know that teething necklaces and jewelry products have become increasingly popular among parents and caregivers who want to provide relief for children’s teething pain and sensory stimulation for children with special needs. We’re concerned about the risks we’ve observed with these products and want parents to be aware that teething jewelry puts children, including those with special needs, at risk of serious injury and death," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. "Consumers should consider following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations of alternative ways for treating teething pain, such as rubbing inflamed gums with a clean finger or using a teething ring made of firm rubber."
The good news is that teething is perfectly normal and your baby will emerge with a new set of choppers before you know it. In the meantime, try the following natural teething remedies to ease pain, swelling and the accompanying unhappiness:
Irritated, swollen gums are often soothed by gentle massage. Using one clean finger (covered with a moistened gauze pad, if you prefer), slowly massage your baby’s gums with gentle but firm pressure until the pain subsides.
Watch out for teethers made from toxic plastics. Opt for ones made from natural fibers, such as organic cotton, that can be washed and used over and over again.
Wet the cloth (most parents use water, but you could consider breast milk or even chamomile tea) then cool the teether in the refrigerator, and the cold will provide extra numbing relief.
Speaking of cold, the Mayo Clinic recommends using the refrigerator instead of the freezer, as contact with extreme cold can be harmful to your baby's mouth.
If your baby is eating solid foods, the Mayo Clinic suggests offering your child hard foods to gnaw. A cold banana, carrot or bagel are popular options. But keep a close eye on the baby, of course, to make sure they don't break off (and choke on) more than they can chew.
If you're concerned about choke hazards with this method, consider buying one of those small mesh bags attached to a pacifier-like handle. The food goes in the mesh bag, baby holds the handle and eats the cold food as it's safely broken down through the mesh. (One caution: They can be hard to thoroughly clean.)
This one is only if your baby has no teeth yet. Put a metal spoon in the refrigerator, and when it's cool, apply the rounded part to your baby's sore gums. Once your baby has teeth, this won't work as he could chip a tooth. And never put the spoon in the freezer as it could stick to baby's mouth or face.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in July 2009.