Watching your little one go through teething can be a challenging time for many parents and babies.
The process of teething begins as the tooth travels through the skin on the gum, before it actually erupts, occasionally causing a cranky and crying child due to pain, swelling, drooling and a slight jump in temperature.
Baby teething pain is reasonably common bringing with it teething symptoms including discomfort, irritability, and of course teething can disrupt sleep patterns.
This time can often be distressing for babies and parents alike.
However, with a few effective strategies and expert approved tips to reduce discomfort and a lot of patience, you can help your baby sleep more peacefully at night and reduce lost sleep whilst allowing the teething process to occur.
When does teething start?
As for when babies start teething, there’s huge variability in when a child gets their first tooth.
Teething begins earlier than most parents think – usually around 4 months of age, sometimes earlier but can range up to 10 months – with all the baby teeth usually complete by 3 years of age.
Understanding Baby Teething and the associated discomfort
Teething typically begins around 4-6 months of age and continues until the toddlers’ third birthday.
It’s a natural process in which your baby’s teeth start to emerge through the gums.
This can be uncomfortable, as the teeth push their way through sensitive tissues. It’s important to remember that while teething can cause discomfort, it is an inevitable and normal part of a child’s development.
The discomfort of teething is mostly caused by the tooth progressing through the gum, not the actual eruption. So your baby might display fussiness, discomfort, a red cheek, disturbed sleep, hypersalivation, etc – long before they ‘break’ a tooth.
Most common baby teething symptoms:
Before we dive into strategies to help your baby’s sleep habits, it’s essential to recognise the signs of teething:
- Excessive drooling: Increased saliva production is a common teething sign, which can sometimes lead to a rash on the chin.
- Irritability: Teething can make your baby irritable, fussy, and prone to mood swings.
- Chewing and biting: Babies may chew on objects or try to bite things to relieve the pressure on their gums.
- Gum swelling and sensitivity: You may notice redness, swelling, or tenderness in your baby’s gums.
- Sleep disturbances: Unfortunately other teething symptoms include an extra fussy baby that can have disruptions to their regular bedtime routine. Baby wakes because teething discomfort often peaks at night, leading to disrupted sleep patterns for babies and parents – the great news is each tooth is only a 24 hour cycle so it’s relatively short lived (I appreciate it doesn’t feel like this when you’re in the thick of it).
How long does it take to “cut a tooth”?
An individual baby tooth will usually only cause discomfort for a 24 hour period but it can take longer for some babies. The “teething process” is said to take about 8 days – 5 days prior to eruption and 3 days after eruption, It’s really important if irritability and discomfort are ongoing and you don’t see any teeth come through that you get your paediatrician or GP to review – in my experience teething is blamed for a LOT of unsettled behaviour when it’s not the actual cause.
Is teething always painful?
No, some babies sail through the process of teething – if this is your baby, praise your genetic blessings!
Does teething impact sleep?
Yes, teething can affect sleep due to the discomfort it can cause.
As discussed, some babies are more bothered by teething than other babies, but if teething pain hasn’t bothered your baby during the day then it is unlikely to bother them just at night.
If your baby is cranky and irritable from teething during the day then they are more likely to be woken from it overnight.
I can hear you asking, how can I help my baby with teething pain and how to soothe a teething baby at night?
Our top strategies to help your teething baby sleep include:
TIP 1: Chilled teething rings or teething toys
Give your baby a clean, chilled teething ring, some teething toys or a chilled damp washcloth to gnaw on. The cold sensation can reduce inflammation, help numb their gums and provide relief. Ensure the toy or teething ring is age-appropriate and free from small parts to prevent it becoming a choking hazard for your child.
Pro tip: If you’re using a wash cloth option soak it in breastmilk or formula, make a ball and tie a rubber band around the middle so they have something to hold onto
TIP 2: Gentle gum massage
Wash your hands thoroughly and use a clean finger to massage your baby’s gums gently. This can help alleviate some of the discomfort and provide soothing relief where their teeth are coming through their gums.
TIP 3: Pain relief options
Consult your baby’s paediatrician or doctor about pain reliever medications that are safe for your baby’s age. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding dosage and usage. See notes on teething gels below and the new research to advise against them
TIP 4: Dietary adjustments
If your baby has started solid foods, offer cold and soft foods like yogurt, pureed fruit, or chilled cucumber. The coolness can provide relief to sore gums.
TIP 5: Baby’s bedtime routine
Establish a calming bedtime routine to help with nighttime fussiness that includes activities such as a warm bath, soft lullabies, and cuddling. A consistent routine signals to your baby that it’s time to sleep.
TIP 6: Distraction
Engage your baby in gentle play or story time before bedtime to divert their attention from teething discomfort. Distraction can help them relax and fall asleep more easily.
TIP 7: Comfort items
If your baby has a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, make sure it’s within reach. These comfort items can provide a sense of security. Please ensure this is age appropriate from a SIDS/safety perspective.
TIP 8: Monitor night time nappy changes
If your baby is in discomfort due to teething, try to minimize night time nappy changes to avoid waking them unnecessarily. Use high-absorbency nappy’s to reduce the chances of leaks.
TIP 9 Consult your pediatrician or doctor
If your baby’s teething discomfort is severe and persists for an extended period, or if you have concerns about their sleep, don’t hesitate to consult your pediatrician or healthcare provider who can also help your baby. They can provide guidance and tips and rule out any other potential issues.
What’s the verdict on teething gels?
While many of our parents used over the counter teething gels and if you have older children you may have used it on them, recent guidelines have changed significantly when it comes to teething gels:
- Recent literature suggests that teething gels (especially those containing lidocaine) are not recommended due to the possible dosing / toxicity effects.
- The evidence and literature is also not clear as to the efficacy of the gel in actually managing teething pain
- It is also not clear how much of the gel is being swallowed (as this is hard to control) by a baby and so there is concern about the potential adverse effects and toxicity.
- The Australian and New Zealand Society of Paediatric Dentistry also don’t recommend teething gels as a solution to teething pain and a recent literature review (2020) in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health also recommend against the use of the teething gels containing lidocaine
- My colleagues in the US (American Academy of Paediatrics) also do not recommend teething gels for babies either
- The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia hasn’t changed guidelines in Australia but the FDA (America’s equivalent to the TGA) do not recommend lidocaine gels for teething relief
Remember that teething is a temporary phase in your baby’s development. Don’t worry too much. With your love, care, and the right strategies, you can help your teething baby sleep more peacefully through the night, ensuring they – and you – get the rest you need during these hard but rewarding days of parenthood.