A parent’s guide to surviving teething

Tips from a pediatrician

Tips from a pediatrician

I have a precious 9-month-old. He is rolling all around, learning to clap his hands and he is cutting teeth! Oh, the agony of watching my child suffer through this stage of development. And everyone has an opinion, suggestion or antidote for how they survived the teething years. If you turn to the Internet, you’ll find even more information. So, at our nine-month well baby visit, I talked to my pediatrician about teething aid products, the dos and don’ts and any other tips he had for surviving teething.

Larry M. Ryle, M.D., internal medicine and pediatric physician with Norton Community Medical Associations – Shepherdsville, talked to me at length about the process of teething. He pointed out that the baby’s gums will appear white and swollen during teething and can take several weeks to months for a tooth to break through the gums.

“Along with the swelling, your baby will experience lots of drooling and a runny nose,” Dr. Ryle said. “This is a side effect of the swelling. When there is increased inflammation in the mouth, there will be increased saliva and mucus production.”

Dr. Ryle added that having a fever or diarrhea is  part of teething.

“There is no physiological or medical connection to teething and running a fever or having loose stools,” Dr. Ryle said. “Typically, if your child experiences these symptoms he has a virus at the same time as teething.”

When I asked Dr. Ryle about over-the-counter teething aids, he offered the following information:

  • Oral gels tend to numb the gums; however, with the amount of saliva being produced, the product will wash off very quickly. There is also concern with overuse or misuse of these products. The gel is absorbed into the blood stream and, if overused, can be toxic.
  • Teething tablets are becoming more popular and work similarly to gels but are in a quick-dissolving form. Dr. Ryle, didn’t have a strong opinion for yah or nay. “There’s not enough evidence for these tablets working or not working, but I would encourage parents to do their research on products. Are they regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA)? Have there been product recalls? Take all of these into consideration before using,” he said.
  • Teething necklaces made from Baltic amber gems have also been gaining popularity. AmberTeethingNecklace.org, an online guide to teething and amber jewelry as a natural remedy, provides information on how the necklace helps with common complications of teething, such as lack of appetite, upset tummy and ear aches. Dr. Ryle again refers back to a lack of medical research in the effectiveness of using a teething necklace. He also shared his concern with the potential for choking if the gems should come loose from the necklace.

I had to ask about using whiskey too. Every great grandmother I’ve talked to has told me to try it, but Dr. Ryle warns that the practice of dabbing whiskey on your infant’s gums is not recommended.

“The alcohol acts as a sedative, making the baby sleepy and impacting his ability to communicate with you,” he said. “Your baby needs to be able to communicate even if he is crying. The use of whiskey impairs that ability.”

So what other options are there for helping your infant sail through the teething stage? Dr. Ryle says to think “cool” and to use things that are manageable for small baby hands.

“A few things my wife and I used and what I recommend to all my patients are cold wash clothes and chilled teething rings,” Dr. Ryle said. “Both offer coolness, which will help numb the gums, and provide different textures for chewing.”

At the root of teething pain is inflammation, so if your baby continues to be uncomfortable with white, swollen gums, another option is to give an anti-inflammatory medication, such as Motrin.

“It’s important to give the medication as directed and only when necessary,” Dr. Ryle said. “You should consult your child’s pediatrician before administering new medications.”

Dr. Ryle also recommends keeping lots of bibs on hand to help collect the moisture from drooling. Keeping your baby as dry as possible, especially during the cold weather months, will prevent skin from chapping. If the skin does become irritated, use lotion or Vaseline to help soothe it.

For me the teething times have come and gone in waves, and Dr. Ryle says that is normal: “There will be days, or maybe a window of a weeks, where your baby may be very uncomfortable and then suddenly it all gets better.”

Keep in mind that if your child begins to run a fever over 100 degrees or if he or she is inconsolable even after trying all of these recommendations, then it is time to consult your pediatrician. There may be an underlying problem that needs attention.

Looking for a pediatrician in your area? Find a Norton Children’s Hospital Medical Associates office near you or call (502) 629-1234


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