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Is teething really a sickness? Here is all you need to know

“Why is it that once a child is four months old and above, every sickness is linked to teething?” This is the question a worried mother asked recently.  She explained that her baby was ill and everyone kept saying it was teething until she went to the hospital, only to find out it was a bacterial infection.

Many Nigerians associate symptoms like stooling, vomiting or high temperature in a child to teething. Some even go as far as recommending concoctions or medications  like teething powder, Bonababe, Piccan etc. 

This 2009 study showed that fever, diarrhea and vomiting were the most prevalent symptoms of teething reported by parents. Another 2011 study conducted in South-West Nigeria had similar findings. 

But how true is this? Are these symptoms actually associated with teething? Let’s find out in this article. 

What is teething?

Teething, also known as odontiasis, is when a baby’s teeth start to come through their gum line. It is an important milestone in a baby’s life because this means that the baby will soon be able to eat different foods.

Teething is a thing of concern for parents, especially new parents. While some babies’ teeth will grow without any pain or discomfort, others won’t because babies differ and have varying symptoms. 

Symptoms of Teething

Symptoms of teething include; red, tender and swollen gums, irritability, loss of appetite, chewing, and drooling.

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) notes that cough, disturbed sleep, decreased appetite for liquids, vomiting, diarrhoea or increased stools, rash, and high fever are not symptoms of teething.

A study by paediatricians in 2000 noted that teething symptoms were only significantly more frequent in the 4 days before a tooth emerged, the day of the emergence, and 3 days after it. This 8-day window was therefore defined as the teething period.

This study also lists increased biting, drooling, gum-rubbing, sucking, irritability, wakefulness, ear-rubbing, facial rash, decreased appetite for solid foods, and mild temperature elevation as symptoms associated with teething.

When exactly does teething begin?

The American Dental Association (ADA) says  babies start teething when they are between 4 and 7 months old and the teeth erupt at about six months of age. The bottom teeth, known as pegs, typically come in first, followed by the top centre teeth while the rest of the teeth grow out over a period of two years. At age 3, children should have their primary set of 20 teeth.

While the ADA has a teeth eruption chart, not all babies follow this chart.

Screenshot of ADA Teeth eruption chart chart.

Is there medication for teething?

Although medications like bonababe, piccan, teething powder, or teething gel are usually recommended by mothers and grandmothers, there is no medication for teething. 

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend any type of drug, herb, or homoeopathic medications for teething.

The AAP recommends alternative ways for treating teething pain like rubbing infants’ gums with a clean finger or providing a teething ring made of firm rubber to chew on. 

Teething medications or remedies like viscous lidocaine or benzocaine products should be avoided as laboratory analysis of some homoeopathic remedies in recent years found greater amounts than labelled of the ingredient belladonna, which can cause seizures and difficulty in breathing.

The FDA warns against using these medications for teething due to the risk of overdose.

What are experts saying

A doctor at the National Hospital in Abuja, doctor Jeremiah Agim, said teething starts at six months with the lower front teeth called the incisors but some children might start teething earlier or later than 6months. He also said some babies are born with teeth.

He added that teething is not an illness so it does not require any medication. However, he noted paracetamol can be used to relieve crankiness or mild temperature. 

“Teething is not an illness. Just as losing the milk teeth is not an illness, parents often associate it with fever and or diarrhoea. This should not be, if your child has a fever or diarrhoea during the teething period, ensure there are no other causes of these symptoms before attributing them to teething.

“Child want to bite on object and their fingers

Do not give any medication for teething. If the child is cranky, paracetamol should suffice. Do not give or apply medication with local anaesthetic agents such as lidocaine or benzocaine,” the doctor added. 

He noted some of the symptoms may include a slight elevation in body temperature, drooling, irritability, swollen or tender gum and cough which may be due to the child choking on the excess saliva.

Speaking on ways to relieve teething symptoms, he said, “You can massage the gum with your clean finger, give the child something cold to chew on (not a frozen item), cold teat/pacifier or cold spoon.”

He warned against the use of a teething necklace and bracelet as this can harm the baby. 

“Some people use a teething necklace or bracelet for 

the baby to chew on, but this is not advisable as this results in choking the child if the beads fall into the air ways,” he stressed.

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