Years ago when I was teaching parenting classes to expecting couples I scoffed at the idea that there was such a thing as “teething”. I also poo-pooed the idea of using teething rings, lidocaine creams, or brandy (especially bandy) to alleviate teething “pain”. Since then many studies have confirmed my suspicion that teething does not cause irritability, chewing, or even drooling, and rarely causes fever. Last month the AAP reaffirmed its policy statement which tells parents not to use so called “Teething gels or creams”.
Why then, do parents still talk about the signs and symptoms of teething and how to treat them? Let’s look a little closer at what these “symptoms” really represent.
Sucking and gum chewing:
During infancy, babies basically learn through their mouths. Freud called this the beginning of the oral phase of development. Picture this: Baby Girl is lying in her crib, by chance, and her hand falls into her mouth. Baby licks it, sucks on it, pulls it out, looks at it, and wonders “what is this thing?” “Where did it come from?” Then she drops her sweet little hand and it lands again in her mouth. Now she gums it a little harder and jerks it away as she realizes that hurts. After doing this several times she comes to realizes it is connected to her. Then she’ll lick and suck her fingers, her thumb her forearm and yes, even her toes. ”Wow,” she thinks. “I have a lot of parts.”
I used to tell parents that was one of the reasons I disliked pacifiers; they block the school house door! Now I have to tell them that it’s ok to use a pacifier while baby is sleeping as there is some evidence that might reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But, the AAP says that’s only for sleep and during the day time babies should visit their personal learning center (read mouth) as much as possible. As to the chewing on everything like a puppy, she, like the puppy is just trying to figure out what is part of her and what is food.
I’m sure many of you have seen babies with swollen, red, sometime black and blue gums. Don’t they look sore? Sure, and if your gums looked like that the last thing you would want to do is chew on a teething ring or eat an apple. Your baby will try that once and move the ring to a part of her mouth that doesn’t hurt, or spit the ring out. Teething rings will teach your baby about teething rings, but they won’t help her teeth come in or alieve any pain. They are much more likely to cause pain.
Sucking on hands, fingers, toes, toys or teething rings is not a sign of teething.
How many times have you picked up a baby only to have him drool gallons of saliva all over your shirt or dress? If you have a baby or have had a baby you know what I mean. “Oh he’s teething,” your well-meaning neighbor will say with a laugh.
But, at about the same time babies get their first tooth (5-6 months old) they need food that requires saliva to swallow and digest. Wise Mother Nature knows this and has babies make more saliva. Ever try to feed a baby with a spoon? Notice that they don’t get much down with each swallow and just like saliva it drools down their chin. Soon baby will learn how to get the food down without looking like a rabid puppy. And by the time most of her teeth are in she’ll learn to swallow all the saliva her glands squeeze into her mouth. So, next time your neighbor says your baby’s teething you can smirk and say ”Yep”, and let it go.
Drooling is not a sign of teething!
When we brush our teeth we dislodge some of the bacteria and other debris that accumulates in our mouth. This can also occur when a tooth breaks through the lining of the gums. Bacteria (most often non disease causing germs) or other particles may enter the blood stream and fortunately, are filtered out by the lungs. In the process a slight fever sometimes develops.
Whereas a fever is always concerning in any infant, babies who have just popped a new tooth do not appear sick or uncomfortable. But, continue to chew on everything they want and need to learn about. If baby is not active, eating, or looks sick, it’s best to have him see his pediatrician regardless of the state of his teeth.
In a press release the AAP said: Parents should not use medicated gels to treat teething pain in young children because the ingredient lidocaine used in some products can be harmful, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Infants can be harmed if they accidentally have too much lidocaine or swallow too much of the drug. Reactions can include seizures, brain injury, heart problems and death.
The FDA reviewed 22 reports of serious reactions, including deaths, in infants and young children 5 months to 3.5 years of age who were given oral lidocaine 2% solution for the treatment of mouth pain, including teething, or who had accidentally swallowed the solution.
Remember, the next time you see a baby chewing on his hand and drooling he’s starting to learn about the world and reminding you to start his college fund!