Whiskey for Babies? And Other Teething Tales
“My granddaughter has a fever, a runny nose and loose poop because she is cutting a tooth,” says the pleasant gray haired lady with the squirming and droolly 4-month-old in her lap.
As a rule, I don’t mess with grandmothers. These key opinion leaders in many families offer authoritative and enriched perspectives in matters where babies are concerned. So, beware! Any well-intentioned, evidence-quoting pediatrician who attempts to disabuse such an elder of the mythologies of teething can tell you that. After they have had their head handed back to them, of course.
Trouble is, teething is like a lot of issues in pediatrics: art, science, mythology and conflicting research make it hard to separate fact from fiction.
Here’s what we know. Most kids will get their first teeth between 6 and 12 months. Salivary glands develop around 3-4 months that folks associate with drooling. More adept babies at this age may grab all objects (including noses, dustbunnies, and bricabrac) and bring ‘em to their mouth (can you say, oral?). All this can be a false alarm about impending tooth eruption. Maybe, or drooling and mouthing is just what a lot of 4 month olds do. (“Feh!” I can hear some grandmas saying out there.)
Usually, the first teeth to appear are the two lower front teeth, followed by the upper middle teeth (at which point the babies may have an adorable, beaver-like look), and then by an advancing picket of teeth on the upper and lower gums. At times there may be a little bump from an arising tooth, other times they can shoot up like dandelions without fanfare or notice. Most first teeth appear between 6 and 12 months. Roughly speaking, kids will get about four new teeth every four months, after the first ones pop up. Interestingly (for us geeks), less than 1% of kids will get their first tooth before 4 months, or after one year. Just about all children will have all 20 baby teeth by their third birthday.
Here’s what we might know. Research suggests some of what grandma says is true. Teething may be associated with crabbiness, chomping, refusing food, and trouble sleeping. Pediatricians, parents, and researchers will argue that it might also causes temperature bumps up to 100.5 (based on the evidence, I buy this), or that it causes diarrhea, runny noses , higher fevers, or vomiting (I don’t buy that…something else is afoot, I’d reckon). The actual biology of the process of the tooth eruption is still not fully understood. (“So I’m right!”, says grandparent.)
Remedies for teething are legion, go back thousands of years, and range from the cute to the questionable (whiskey, anyone?). I most recommend using a pretty simple teething kit: soft chewy toys, a chilled clean towel or frozen bagel (that hasn’t thawed!), and/or Tylenol/acetaminophen for the child who seems uncomfortable. As a rule, I am not a fan of the topical gum gels, due to their short span of action and potential side effects. I am not convinced homeopathic remedies are effective (nor do I think they will hurt), and herbal therapies are best considered individually, and should be run by your doc for safety or side effects.
And all this for what? So the little tyke can lose these deciduous teeth in 5-7 years. Well, sure. That much we do know. In the meantime, as my youngest charges are building the bricks of their future smiles, I’ll grin and bear it as I get schooled (and often, humbled) by their grandmothers’ wisdom.
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