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Teething troubles

Teething is a real pain in the gums for some babies, while others seem to escape without too much discomfort at all.

All babies are different, but for most, the first tooth comes through at around six months. Usually it’s the incisors at the centre of the lower and upper gums that appear first, followed by the rest of the incisors, then the first molars, canines and second molars (back teeth) between one and three years old. Most babies will have all of their milk (baby) teeth – and there are 20 altogether – by the time they are two and a half.

Start looking after your baby’s teeth by brushing with just a smear of fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first ones come through. You should also register your baby with a dentist. Other things you can do to keep your baby’s teeth healthy and strong are to introduce a drinking cup from six months old, and stop using a bottle for feeding by the time they’re one. If you’re using a dummy, never put sugar, honey, jam or other sweeteners on it. Avoid giving your baby a bottle to suck to go to sleep.

Signs your baby is teething

A wide range of different symptoms tend to be blamed on teething, including an upset tummy or fever, but there’s no research to prove a direct link. The main signs to look out for are:

  • The gum looks sore and red where the tooth is coming through
  • Cheeks can look flushed
  • Dribbling more than usual
  • Your baby keeps chewing on their fingers, toys or other hard objects
  • Your baby is restless at night and irritable.

Five ways to make teething more bearable

  1. Picture books and games can be a welcome distraction.
  2. A teething ring will give your baby something to bite down on. Some teething rings can also be cooled in the fridge, but don’t put them in the freezer or you could end up hurting the gums instead of soothing them.
  3. You can buy sugar-free teething gels and powders to rub on the sore area. They often contain a mild local anaesthetic and antiseptic to prevent infection. Make sure you choose one designed for babies, and talk to your GP or health visitor about using teething gel if your baby is younger than six months old.
  4. If your baby is older than six months, pieces of apple or carrot sticks or a crust of bread are good to chew on. Make sure you supervise them closely in case they choke.
  5. If nothing else works and your baby is still in discomfort, give them a sugar-free painkilling medicine containing paracetamol or ibuprofen. Choose one designed for babies and follow the instructions to give the correct dose.

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Page last reviewed: 09-09-2020

Next review due: 09-09-2023