Taking the bite out of teething

Taking the bite out of teething


When can teething begin?

Babies can get their first tooth anywhere between 3 – 15 months, but commonly between 4 – 9 months – although discomfort may start earlier. Dribbling at 3 – 4 months is usually as a result of your baby learning to put things in their mouth, which is part of normal development.

What can you do to help?

  • Rub your baby’s sore gums gently with your finger
  • Give your baby a teething ring – either a soft rubber one, or the plastic type that are cooled in the refrigerator
  • If you think your baby is in pain, consider giving paracetamol as directed for the child’s age
  • Avoid hard sharp-edged toys that could damage teeth and gums.

What not to do

  • Don’t dip dummies or teething rings in honey or sweet foods, as it may lead to dental decay (and honey shouldn’t be given to babies under 12 months for health reasons)
  • Don’t suck your baby’s dummy and give it back to them, as you will transfer bacteria from your mouth to theirs

Signs of teething

  • Rosy, flushed cheeks
  • Increased dribbling
  • Tugging at ears
  • Chewing on everything
  • Tender swollen gums
  • Irritability
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Poor appetite
  • Loose, frequent stools
  • Sore red bottom or rash

Note: Generally, teething does not cause a fever. If your baby has a high temperature, see your doctor.

Caring for baby’s teeth

The importance of first teeth

What many parents don’t realise is that emerging baby teeth need to be looked after as carefully as we look after our own teeth. They will need to last your child until they are 5–12 years of age.

As well as their obvious importance for chewing and speaking, they help proper jaw development, and reserve the spaces for the permanent teeth to come through later. Dental decay can result in babies losing teeth as early as 12 months.

Tips for cleaning teeth

  • Start cleaning when teeth appear. Gently wipe with a clean damp cloth at bath time
  • Progress to a small soft bristle toothbrush with water (there are special brushes available for babies)
  • Hold the baby sitting against you facing the bathroom mirror so they can see their teeth being cleaned
  • Let your baby play with their toothbrush while they watch you brush your teeth
  • Start using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride children’s toothpaste only when they have learnt to spit things out from their mouth
  • Limit the amount of sugary foods in their diet

A condition called ‘nursing caries’ can result from allowing a baby to suck on a bottle of milk or sweetened juice for long periods during the day, or last thing at night. If a bedtime bottle is needed, use cooled boiled water instead (or cooled boiled water after the bedtime bottle of formula).

Caring for your toddler’s teeth

Sometime in the next 12 months you should take your child either to the dentist or to your Child Health Nurse for a dental check.

Tips for cleaning teeth

  • Use a special children’s toothbrush, small with extra-soft bristles
  • Always use gentle pressure, as brushing too hard can damage the gums
  • Use a junior-strength toothpaste until they’re about 6 years old. This has a mild flavour, is low foaming and lower in fluoride if they swallow it by accident
  • Teach them how to rinse and spit, so they don’t swallow the toothpaste
  • Night time brushing is the most important, so don’t be tempted to let your children have a snack in bed. A bottle, a glass of milk, or even an apple, can undo all your good work
  • Try not to give too many sugary snacks between meals
  • Water or milk should be your child’s main drinks, but if you do serve fruit juice or cordial it is best to give it well diluted. It is also good to give it with some food rather than by itself, because the saliva produced from chewing will help to get rid of the sugar and neutralise the acids causing decay.

Help your children brush their teeth twice a day after meals. They need your help until they’re about 6 years old, and have the manual skills to do a proper job themselves.

Visiting the dentist

First visit to the dentist

Children should have their first dental check-up at 1–2 years of age. Routine checkups can be carried out by your usual family dentist.

How long do baby teeth last?

  • The front baby teeth will last until the age of 5–7 years
  • The back molars have to last until about 12 years of age
  • Dentists advise having a protective coating, or fissure sealant, applied to the molars at around 7 years

What the dentist will look for?

  • The number of baby teeth and their spacing and placement
  • How effectively teeth are being cleaned
  • Any changes in colour, or spotting of teeth, signifying early decay
  • About 20% of children have a type of decay called ‘nursing caries’, often related to dietary and feeding habits, particularly use of a night time bottle.

Your attitude can help

Be relaxed with your children when talking about the dentist. Be careful not to use any negative words, and be sure not to pass on any feelings of fear or anxiety that you may have.

The content in this article was authored by journalist Kay Stammers BA Hons, TPTC and Child and Family Health Nurses Lindy Danvers RN, RM, M’craft, MHA and Sue Prescott RN, RM, M’craft, Grad. Dip Child Health in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Pty Ltd (GSK). GSK does not control, monitor or guarantee the information contained in this article and does not endorse any views expressed herein. In no event shall GSK be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any such content. Health related content in this article should not be used for diagnosing purposes or be substituted for medical advice. Always consult your professional healthcare providers before beginning any new treatment. GSK assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequence resulting directly or indirectly for any action or inaction you take based on or made in reliance of the content in this article.

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