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Is It Really Teething?


A baby using a teething ring to sooth the pain of teething


Teething marks a significant developmental milestone in your baby's journey, but it's also a phase that often comes with its fair share of misconceptions and uncertainties for parents. As your little one's first teeth begin to emerge, you may find yourself navigating through sleepless nights and bouts of fussiness, wondering how best to ease their discomfort. In this blog, we aim to shed light on the truths surrounding teething, dispelling common myths that may cloud your understanding of this natural process. Through our exploration, we hope to provide valuable insights and practical tips to support both you and your baby as you navigate this challenging yet essential stage of development.



What Do We Know?


Teething has been a subject of fascination and folklore for centuries, with myths and superstitions surrounding this natural developmental process. From ancient times to modern-day parenting forums, teething has captured the attention of caregivers worldwide. Despite all this, teething has remained relatively under-researched in the medical community.


Throughout history, teething has been associated with a myriad of symptoms and beliefs, ranging from fever and diarrhoea to irritability and sleep disturbances. However, this has lacked scientific validation, leading to ongoing speculation and debate among medical professionals.


Despite the abundance of anecdotal evidence and parental experiences, there is a notable lack of evidence-based research on teething. This has left many questions unanswered and has contributed to the perpetuation of myths and misconceptions surrounding teething-related symptoms. 


One area of contention in the medical literature is the association between teething and specific symptoms, such as fever. While some caregivers attribute fevers and other symptoms to teething, others remain skeptical, citing the lack of conclusive evidence to support such claims. 



Teething symptoms are lacking in research

Signs of Teething


Recognising the signs of teething is crucial for you to be able to provide adequate support and comfort to their babies as they navigate through this developmental milestone. However, it is difficult to know what signs to look for where there is such lacking reserach on what the true symptoms really are. 


While teething is a natural process, it can be accompanied by solidly researched symptoms that may cause discomfort and distress to infants. Understanding these common signs can help you better understand your baby's needs and respond effectively to alleviate their discomfort. 


Whilst a study in 2000 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10742315/) showed some statistically associated symptoms of teething including, increased biting, drooling, gum-rubbing, sucking, irritability, wakefulness, ear-rubbing, facial rash, decreased appetite for solid foods, and mild temperature elevation, the ‘true’ teething symptoms include:


  • Swollen Gums: One of the most noticeable signs of teething is swollen gums. As new teeth begin to erupt, the gums may become red, swollen, and tender to the touch. 


  • Excessive Drooling: Babies may also experience increased drooling during this time as their saliva production ramps up in response to the teething process. Excessive drooling can sometimes lead to skin irritation around the mouth and chin, requiring gentle care and attention.


  • Behavioural Changes: In addition to swollen gums and excessive drooling, babies may exhibit behavioral changes indicative of teething discomfort. Increased fussiness and irritability are common symptoms, as babies may find it challenging to cope with the discomfort caused by teething. They may become more clingy or have difficulty settling down for naps or bedtime.


  • Chewing Objects: Another common behavior associated with teething is a strong desire to chew on objects. Babies may instinctively seek relief by gnawing on teething toys, pacifiers, or even their fingers to alleviate the pressure and discomfort in their gums. Providing safe, teething-friendly toys for your baby to chew on can offer relief and distraction during this challenging time.


You should also try to remain attentive and responsive to your baby's cues during teething. While some infants may experience mild discomfort, others may find the process more distressing. By recognising the signs of teething and responding with patience, empathy, and appropriate comfort measures, you can help your babies navigate through this phase more smoothly.



Teething Isn't Always Painful Enough to Wake a Sleeping Baby


One of the most persistent myths about teething is the notion that it triggers such intense pain that it can awaken a soundly sleeping baby. However, recent research and studies have challenged this belief, offering a more nuanced understanding of teething discomfort. The Finnish study, in particular, has provided valuable insights into the nature of teething-related disturbances. By examining the correlation between teething and sleep disruptions, the study revealed that while teething may coincide with periods of wakefulness, it is not always the primary cause of sleep disturbance.


It's important to recognise that teething discomfort, although uncomfortable, may not be severe enough to rouse a sleeping baby. Understanding this can help you differentiate between teething-related disturbances and other potential factors contributing to nighttime awakenings. Additionally, considering that our blood pressure tends to lower during sleep, which can reduce our perception of pain, it's essential to assess other possible causes for your baby's nighttime discomfort.



How long does teething last?


Don't be alarmed, teething isn't a constant issue for the first few years of life. Many parents feel like teething is a constant and persistent pain point for their child, but your child’s tooth should only cause your little one pain for 5-8 days. Typically, for the five days ahead of ‘eruption day’ where the tooth makes it’s appearance, and then the three days afterwards (Macknin et al, 2000).


If you notice that your child’s sleep is disrupted for more than 8 days, and most of the signs and symptoms are teething are no longer presenting, then it is likely that teething isn’t really the cause of disrupted sleep. Many parents are quick to blame teething on their child’s sleep disruptions and unnecessarily manage this with pain relief or soothing teething gel. Whilst your pain management plan is important through times of genuine teething, it’s not optimal for your child to continue to receive pain relief when they really aren’t in pain from teething at all. 


Teething pain won’t present for longer than 8 days, and you should see the tooth erupt in this time frame. If you don’t, then it is necessary to dig deeper into the cause of the ongoing sleep disruptions. 



A mum comforting her baby through the stages of teething


How can I help my baby through teething?


Teething discomfort, though not always severe, can still significantly impact your baby's comfort and well-being. While some babies may breeze through the teething process with minimal fuss, others may experience more pronounced discomfort, leading to irritability, fussiness, and difficulty sleeping. As a parent, there are several strategies you can implement to help alleviate your baby's teething discomfort and provide them with much-needed relief.


This may include cuddling them, offering soothing words and gentle touches, or providing relief measures such as chilled teething toys or over-the-counter pain relief remedies recommended by your pediatrician. It's essential to follow your pediatrician's guidance and dosage instructions carefully when using these remedies to ensure your baby's safety and well-being. Another gentle approach to easing teething discomfort is to massage your baby's gums with a clean finger. Using gentle, circular motions, apply light pressure to the affected areas to help alleviate soreness and discomfort. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before massaging your baby's gums to prevent the spread of germs.


Remember that every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It may take some trial and error to find the most effective methods for soothing your baby's teething discomfort. By offering love, patience, and support, you can help your baby navigate through the teething process more comfortably and peacefully.


It's important to remember that teething discomfort is temporary and will eventually pass as your baby's teeth continue to emerge. In the meantime, providing consistent support and comfort to your little one during both daytime and nighttime hours will help them navigate through this challenging phase more comfortably and peacefully. By offering love, patience, and understanding, you can help your baby feel safe and secure as they navigate through the teething process. 



If you’re still in the thick of teething, or just want to prepare for the pending process, then my Managing Teething Guide will be exactly what you need. Download your free copy here:


Managing Teething
.pdf
Download PDF • 4.75MB


If your child is still showing persistent signs of teething and their sleep is continually disrupted, then it is likely there is an underlying issue affecting your child's ability to sleep well. It is important to explore this so you can move away from unnecessary pain relief and disrupted sleep, and move towards restful sleep for the whole family. Use my Underlying issues Check List to start your journey on identifying and exploring uncommon disruptions to sleep.


Underlying Issues Check List
.pdf
Download PDF • 5.17MB


If you are looking for some professional and responsive supportive to address and manage your child's sleep, then I am here and ready to help you. You can book in for a 15 Minute Discovery Call if you'd like to chat.




I'm Shereen Nielsen, a certified infant and child sleep consultant specializing in children from birth to 15 years old. With over seven years of experience, I've had the privilege of assisting over 4000 families on their journey to better sleep.


I am also a lecturer and mentor for students on their journey towards becoming a Sleep Consultant, through my on-line internationally recognised Sleep Consultant Course.


Phone: +61419820474


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