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Expert Advice

The whole tooth

Teething is an exciting milestone but it can be tough for you and your baby. Here's how you can help.

Usually, babies start teething at around 6 months and all 20 baby teeth (10 in each jaw) come in by 2 or 3 years. For some babies, their teeth pop through without any drama but for others it can be painful. Here's what you need to know about teething and how you can help.
  • Your baby's gummy smile conceals a full set of 20 milk teeth hidden in his jaw. Usually, the first tip pops through at six months, but all babies are different: it's not unusual for first teeth to appear at three months, but some don't get pearly whites until after 12 months. If your baby doesn't have a tooth by his first birthday, have a chat with your GP.
  • The symptoms may appear more than a month before there's any sign of white, as it's the tooth breaking through the gum that hurts: once it's visible, your baby should be a lot happier. If he's clearly in pain, give him the correct dose of infant paracetamol. Remember that teething shouldn't make your baby ill, so if he's still not himself, see your GP.
  • Teething can be a breeze with some babies; other tots' sore gums make them very cranky. Besides the ouch in his mouth, it's common for babies to experience other niggles and general grouchiness.
  • Expect your baby to wake more often at night. Soothe him back to sleep as best as you can. If he's particularly upset, massage his gums with your finger or give him something cold to chew on, such as a partly frozen flannel or chilled – not frozen – teething ring, but take it away before he goes back to sleep.
  • Be laidback about mealtimes: imagine eating with a mouth ulcer, and you'll understand how your baby feels about food when he's teething. He may eat more slowly than usual, and refuse solid or lumpy food. Once his gums feel better, his appetite will improve.
  • The two middle, bottom teeth usually come through first, followed by the middle four upper teeth. After the first few teeth have appeared, you'll probably get some respite… until the molars start making an appearance, as this pain will be similar to how you felt when cutting your wisdom teeth. All 20 baby teeth will probably be through by the time your baby's about two and a half.
  • Strong, healthy teeth are important for overall health, not just for eating. They also help your baby form expressions, words and sounds. Your baby's milk teeth have to last him for up to 12 years, so teach him to look after them as soon as you can and you'll reduce the risk of painful dental treatment as he grows up.
  • Frequent snacking on sweet foods spells disaster. To prevent tooth decay, try to limit the amount of times your baby's teeth are exposed to sugar. Worst of all is constant snacking on sticky sugary foods such as raisins; they might be healthy but the sugar mixes with saliva to form acid that causes tooth decay. If you must give sugary foods give them at mealtimes, as you can then brush his teeth.
TOP TIPS FOR PAIN RELIEF
  • Give your baby the correct does of infant paracetamol or ibuprofen for children. Use a medicine syringe instead of a spoon to get it to the back of his mouth so he can't spit it out.
  • Use cold comfort to soothe gums. When his gums are hot, sucking on something cool that's too big for him to swallow can really help. Chill a soft, liquid-filled teething ring in the fridge (not freezer), offer him cold carrot sticks, or fill iceblock moulds with water or yoghurt to make icy soothers.
  • Combat dribbling by using a bib to soak up the drool, and smear petroleum jelly on your baby's chin to stop it becoming raw and sore.
  • Chew on this: generations of babies have chomped their way through sugar-free teething biscuits, which are great for relieving pain.
  • Numb the gum. Teething gels have a mild anaesthetic effect, but watch out for your fingers – fractious babies have been known to bite the hand that soothes!
  • Try homeopathy. Make sure the brand you choose is sugar-free (avoid products containing the letters 'ose', such as lactose).
  • Distract him! If your baby's bored, he'll dwell on the pain and become even grumpier. Be prepared to give him more attention than usual, as he'll be feeling sorry for himself. Now's a good time to give him a new toy, but make sure it's something he can chew!
Your little one can become grumpy during teething times. (Image: Getty Images)
SYMPTOMS OF TEETHING?
Teething signs can include:
*Flushed cheeks
*Chewing – on his fist, your nipple, toys…
*Dribbling
*Tender, inflamed gums
*Crying
*Fever – a temperature over 37.5°C
*Going off food
At six months, when the first tooth often comes through, your baby also starts to lose the immunity you passed on when you were pregnant. That's why he may come down with colds or tummy bugs more easily. Beware of mistaking teething for something more serious – if your baby has a temperature, diarrhoea and is screaming constantly, see the doctor.

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