Baby Teething Remedies to Soothe Sore Gums
A baby's tooth buds start forming as early as six weeks in utero. They'll turn into teeth after your little one is born, and they'll eventually move through the jaw to the gum's surface. Most children cut their first tooth around 4 or 6 months of age, though this timeline may vary widely, says Tanny Josen, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist at Kid Island Dental in Long Island, New York. Your child will grow their full set of 20 teeth between ages 1 and 3.
So why does teething cause pain? "When a tooth is getting ready to pop through, it stretches the gum area as tight as a drum," says John Liu, D.D.S., president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and a pediatric dentist in Issaquah, Washington. "To some children, that tightness is interpreted by their brain as being painful. For others, it's just like an itch they have to scratch."
Thankfully, you don't have to helplessly watch your baby's teething process from the sidelines. From natural methods to baby-safe medications, we rounded up the best teething remedies to try at home.
Natural Teething Remedies for Babies
Massage your baby's gums.
Did you know that parents can prepare for teething pain before it starts? "Begin a regimen of massaging and cleaning the baby's gums as soon as he is born," suggests Michael Hanna, DDS, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed your baby, clean their mouth after feedings whenever possible. "Using a clean piece of gauze or a washcloth, rub your finger along the gum pads, cleaning out any leftover milk," he says.
These steps accomplish a few things: Your baby will get used to having something stuck in their mouth after meals, which will make toothbrushing easier down the road. Also, the pressure from the massage will make teething a little less painful. "The pressure of the tooth coming in from below is countered by the pressure from the massaging on the top," says Dr. Hanna. "It feels good, and it helps break down the gum tissues slowly."
Numb the area with cold items.
In addition to pressure, cold is one of the best baby teething remedies, says Jeannie Beauchamp, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist in Clarksville, Tennessee. "Cold slightly numbs the area," she explains. Dr. Beauchamp recommends wetting a washcloth, sticking it in the freezer for 30 to 60 minutes, and letting your child chew on it.
You can also freeze a toy that you feel comfortable having your baby chew on, says Jill Lasky, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist at Lasky Pediatric Dental Group in Los Angeles. Just make sure the toy is age-appropriate, BPA-free, and nontoxic. Cold food (like chilled applesauce or pureed fruit) and chilled drinks may also reduce the pain.
Offer teething rings.
Consider offering your baby a chilled (not frozen) plastic teething ring. The cold plastic helps numb the gums, and when a baby chews on the firm surface of the teething ring, it puts pressure on the gums. Both actions help alleviate pain. Just make sure you consistently check the teething ring for signs of wear and tear. ″The teeth could puncture the teether and your baby could ingest the substance inside," Dr. Lasky warns.
Distract your baby.
When all else fails, distraction can serve as a natural home remedy for teething. "Teething is a normal physiological experience that takes time to adjust to," says Courtney Chinn, D.D.S., assistant professor at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine. "Molars are the largest baby teeth, but they cause the least discomfort. That's because by the time a child's last primary teeth come in, she's absorbed in her activities and learning language skills. Try to distract her; love and hugs are the best remedies."
Medical Teething Remedies for Babies
Toddlers in the late stages of teething—a 2-year-old who's getting their molars, for example—may not be as interested in teething rings or frozen washcloths. In this case, check with your pediatrician, who may recommend that you use an over-the-counter pain reliever for babies, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin). Aspirin is off-limits for children because it's associated with Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious and life-threatening condition.
"Ibuprofen should only be used for babies older than 6 months. After that, either medication is fine when given in the correct dose and administered judiciously—but parents should first ask themselves if their child really needs the drug," advises Dr. Liu. "I recommend picking the one your child has done well with and sticking with it." Some experts say that infant ibuprofen might be more effective for teething pain because in addition to reducing pain, it also helps reduce swelling of irritated, inflamed tissues—including the gums.
Teething Remedies to Avoid
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against using topical numbing preparations because they can be toxic to babies. This includes prescription or over-the-counter creams and gels, as well as homeopathic teething tablets. "Benzocaine—a local anesthetic—is the active ingredient in several OTC oral health care products such as Anbesol, Baby Orajel, Cepacol, Chloraseptic, Hurricaine, Orabase, Orajel, and Topex," says the FDA. "The use of benzocaine gels, sprays, ointments, solutions, and lozenges for mouth and gum pain can lead to a serious—and sometimes fatal—condition called methemoglobinemia, in which the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells is greatly reduced."
In addition, you should never rub whisky on a baby's gums, which is an age-old home remedy for teething. "A lot of parents ask me if rubbing whiskey on their baby's gums will help," says Dr. Beauchamp. "I'm sure their mother or grandmother did this, but it really isn't advisable." Even a small amount can sedate the child, which could be dangerous.
Finally, the FDA advises against teething necklaces, which could cause strangulation or choking.
The Bottom Line
Fortunately, teething pain isn't constant—it seems to come and go, giving babies some welcome relief. But if your baby seems to be in a great deal of pain, or if they refuse to eat and drink for more than a couple of hours, it's time to take them to the pediatrician for a checkup.