Watching your little one suffer is heart wrenching, especially when they're so small and unable to tell you what's troubling them. If you have a young infant, you're probably experiencing your first encounter with this scenario. Teething is undoubtedly an uncomfortable stage for babies, leading to fuzziness and in some cases more serious symptoms like a fever.
Knowing what to expect and when to expect it is an important step in helping children cope with the painful process of growing teeth. Dr. Jim Nickman, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), understands how frustrating this developmental stage can be for parents. He helped us break down an easy guide to every teething milestone and offered guidance on how to best relieve teething pain and care for your children's teeth.
6 to 12 months
Right around the half-year mark, your baby's first teeth will start to erupt. "The process usually starts with the lower middle front teeth, the central incisors, followed by the upper middle front teeth," Dr. Nickman said. Even though it's common for teeth to push through at an early age, some children don't start teething until much later. "Sometimes parents are concerned that their child doesn't have a tooth by the first birthday, but it's not usually a problem as some children's teeth are slower to come in. Boys' teeth, for example, come in later than girls'," he added.
9 to 16 months
"At this age, the lateral incisors, usually the lower ones, pop up. Around 13 months, the first baby molars will also start to erupt in some children," Dr. Nickman explained.
13 to 19 months
Get ready for your baby to say "cheese" on every photo, because those pearly whites are shining. "The front smile starts to come together in the 13- to 19-month time frame. In most children, the first baby molars have erupted, and the canines are close too," Dr. Nickman detailed.
17 to 23 months
By this age, the lower canines are showing. "This is also when infants start to move faster as they gain confidence. Unfortunately, they are a little wobbly and prone to falls. Call your pediatric dentist if your child has a significant bump that affects the teeth," Dr. Nickman said.
23 to 33 months
"The second baby molars are starting to erupt. You can easily identify them because their grooves are deeper than the other teeth present," the doctor said.
How to Ease Teething Pain
"To ease your child's teeth pain, give them a firm rubber teething ring to chew on, but avoid liquid-filled teething rings or other plastic objects that could break," Dr. Nickman warned. For some children, simply putting pressure on the sore area might be enough to help. "Rubbing the gums with a cool, wet cloth can be helpful. If you place the washcloth in the freezer prior to use, run it under water before placing in your child's mouth," he added.
However, in the quest to relieve your baby's pain, be wary of medications and ointments. "Topical pain relievers or other medications that can be massaged on the gums are rarely effective as they wash out very quickly. The Food and Drug Administration discourages using over-the-counter topical gum soothers on children. If needed, more effective long-term relief can be found by using over-the-counter infant versions of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen," Dr. Nickman advised.
How to Care For Your Child's Teeth
Even at an early age, it's important to care for and clean a baby's mouth. "Parents should start cleaning their child's teeth as soon as they erupt into the mouth. For a young infant, this may be easier accomplished with a clean, damp wash cloth over the caregiver's finger," Dr. Nickman said.
As the baby gets old, cleaning the teeth well remains vitally important. "As more teeth erupt, a brush with a rice-grain-size smear of toothpaste cleans and protects the teeth," the doctor explained. But keep the toothpaste amount under control. "Very young children are unable to spit it out, so it is important to use a very small amount of toothpaste to prevent them from ingesting excess amounts."
Consider how liquids and food will affect your baby's mouth as well. "Avoid putting a child to bed with a bottle of anything but water. Nighttime breastfeeding or a nighttime bottle with milk or juice can damage your infant's teeth. While breast milk is extremely beneficial to a child, at-will feeding keeps the milk in contact with the child's front teeth, increasing the risk of cavities," explained Dr. Nickman. "Any food left on the infant's teeth at night can provide fuel to the bad bacteria that cause cavities. Avoid or limit food or snacks that are sticky," he continued.
It's also important to seek out a professional to help clean and protect your baby's teeth. "The AAPD recommends that parents establish a dental home — a home for comprehensive ongoing care — with a pediatric dentist by your baby's first birthday," our expert said, adding that this doctor's visit is essential to fight cavities. "While this seems early, the entire goal of the visit is to prevent dental cavities, discuss what to expect with your child's growth and development, and provide parents and caregivers with preventative information — essentially an owner's manual for caring for their child's oral health. Unfortunately, cavities are the most common chronic disease in childhood, five times more common than asthma," he outlined.