11 essential teething questions answered

Signs of your baby’s first teeth are one of the significant moments parents look out for and celebrate. We asked Dr Candice Schwartz of Big Red Tooth a few of the FAQs our parents have about this milestone.

Q. What is teething?

It depends who you talk to. In my opinion, teething has received a large volume of negative media coverage and has become somewhat an old wives’ tale. Yes, children have some degree of discomfort and uneasiness when the teeth erupt into the mouth. But this is a natural process that should not be associated with pain.

Having said that, each and every human is different and we all experience our bodies in different ways, so some children do drool excessively and may develop erratic sleeping patterns while the teeth erupt. But it is a time to support and sooth your child, not panic, and certainly not medicate.

Q. In adult terms, what could you compare the pain and feeling to?

This is a difficult question to answer. Some children will have all their teeth erupt without any sign or symptom of pain or discomfort. Other mothers will report months of crying, unhappiness and drooling – in their babies that is. This is a very subjective experience. In most scenarios, I would imagine you could compare it to a deep bruised sensation in the jaw.

“Interestingly, boys are usually much later in their eruption pattern as compared to girls.”

Q. What are the symptoms of teething?

Teething should not have any symptoms outside of excess drooling. When a child has a runny tummy, fever or any other unusual symptoms, this is not related to the teething process. Mothers should not resign all symptoms to being teething. If a child is sick, there is usually another underlying cause for this.

Q. Is there a specific order in which the teeth appear/erupt?

Usually, the lower anterior incisor (bottom front teeth) appear first. However, as with everything in the human body, there are anomalies to this rule. Some children will get their upper central incisors first. Some children grow the pointy canine teeth first. Either way, it does not matter, all the teeth will erupt in good time.

Q. How many teeth are there?

There are 20 teeth in the primary dentition.

Q. When do these baby teeth start coming in and by when should it be finished?

The ‘normal’ average is six months. However, there can be up to six to eight months’ variation in tooth eruption times. The majority of children get their first teeth at six months of age and they have all 20 teeth by the age of two years.

However, some children only get their last few teeth growing through by the time they are three. If your child is three years old and still does not have all 20 teeth then you should certainly visit your dentist. I do recommend children see the dentist from the age of two, so we usually pick up on any problems at this stage anyway.

Q. When do children lose their milk teeth?

The first milk teeth are lost between the ages of five and seven years. We are seeing a greater variation in eruption and exfoliation patterns in the last five years. Therefore, there is no ‘normal’. As long as the teeth are lost by the age of eight, we are happy.

Again, any problems will be picked up at routine dental visits. Interestingly, boys are usually much later in their eruption pattern as compared to girls. Boys can sometimes lose their teeth up to two years later than their female counterparts. Losing the first tooth is a sign of emotional maturity. I usually say that when they lose their first tooth they are ready for Grade 1.

Q. What can you use to try lesson the pain?

Cold, hard vegetables such as cold cucumber or cold carrots are good teething toys.

Q. Should you brush your baby’s teeth as they start to arrive and how should you do it?

You should be cleaning your baby’s mouth from the age of three months with a small gauze, finger brush and xylitol-based toothpaste. This is continued when the first teeth erupt. A soft rubber finger brush is good for the first 12 months, but move onto a normal soft toothbrush after the age of one year. The sooner you can get your child into the habit of accepting you cleaning and brushing the inside of their mouth, the better.

Q. Are there any old wives’ tales that are totally not true?

Whiskey on the gums! I think this probably did numb the child and the gums, and knock it (the baby) out, but it probably best to avoid this.

Q. At what age should you take your baby/child to the dentist?

Two years of age.

Also read:

Oral health during pregnancy
Oral care tips from a paediatric dentist