Teething definitely can make babies cranky, but it doesn't often make them sick with high fever and other issues, according to a new analysis of several studies on the topic.
The review, published last month in the journal Pediatrics, found that babies who are teething can be pretty miserable with irritated gums and lots of drool, according to a press release. In some cases, infants may have a slight increase in their temperature, but it rarely causes fevers of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above or other symptoms, such as appetite loss and diarrhea that does not go away pretty quickly.
I checked in with Dr. Alison S. Kavanaugh with University Pediatrics at Highgate in Durham to get some tips for parents with kids, who are pushing out new teeth. Here's our email Q&A:
Go Ask Mom: A new study says that teething can make babies very cranky, but rarely sick. What are the usual signs of teething? Could they include things like diarrhea or appetite loss?
Dr. Alison S. Kavanaugh: The most common symptoms associated with teething are irritation of the gums, fussiness, and drooling. When other symptoms such as diarrhea and appetite loss occur in teething babies, they probably aren't caused by the emergence of the teeth. The important thing to remember is that a teething child could still have a real illness at the same time. We don't want parents to discount their child's symptoms just because teeth are coming in. Parents should watch their baby for signs that point to illness and monitor how their child is doing. If they are having fever, diarrhea, poor appetite, or other symptoms, make sure they are getting enough liquids to stay hydrated and take them to see their doctor if necessary.
GAM: If a child has a fever, how often is that related to teething? If a baby's temperature is 100.4 degrees F or higher, is that still because of teething or is it something different?
AK: The recent study was a meta-analysis, which combined data from multiple different studies. It concluded that teething can raise a baby's body temperature, but not above 100.4. So, if your baby has a true fever over 100.4, you should consider that a sign that the baby has an illness of some kind, not just attribute it to the teeth breaking through the gums. Around the age that they are getting teeth, babies are also starting to get exposed to more and more illnesses, especially since this is the age when they put everything into their mouths. So they are getting more infections at the same time they're getting their teeth. We want parents to be sure to monitor symptoms and seek care from their doctor if they have concerns.
GAM: What is the best way to help babies who are teething?
AK: If at all possible, try to help your baby get through teething without using medicine. Comfort them and allow them to chew or suck on things that can soothe their sore gums, such as a clean cloth moistened with cool water or a teething ring that's been chilled in the refrigerator. Be sure to use something that your baby can't choke on. You could also try massaging baby's sore gums with a clean finger.
GAM: Are there some remedies to avoid?
AK: Topical teething gels can have rare, but dangerous side effects and should be avoided. In general, treatments that soothe the gums by using cool temperature or giving the child something to chew on are enough to get a baby through the discomfort of teething. Refrigerated, not frozen, teething objects are safer because extremely cold temperatures can actually injure a baby's sensitive gums or skin. It's always best to avoid medications unless they are truly necessary, because even over-the-counter treatments like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can cause complications from time to time. Even teething remedies that claim to be natural or homeopathic can contain ingredients that can cause dangerous side effects.
Amber teething necklaces have become more popular recently in parents' efforts to help their babies with teething pain, but there is no scientific evidence to support claims that these necklaces are helpful for teething children. They also pose a risk for choking and strangulation and should never be left on a baby who is not directly supervised. When your little one is irritable from teeth breaking through, give baby lots of love and something to suck on, and try to keep to their regular sleep routine intact in order to avoid sleep problems down the road.
GAM: A lot of focus on teething comes for babies, but tweens seem to suffer some discomfort when molars or canines come out and in. What's the best way to help them?
AK: Teeth breaking through the gums can cause some pain in children and adolescents of all ages. Hopefully, bigger kids' ability to understand what's happening in their mouth will help them to handle the discomfort better than infants might. Some of the same strategies that work for babies can help older kids too, such as letting them chew or suck on something cold to calm the inflammation in their gums. If the pain is really bothersome, it would be reasonable to try giving them ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but if the pain is severe or the gums have significant swelling, they should see their dentist or doctor to rule out other causes for their symptoms.