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Toddler Teething Tips: How to Help with Teething Pain

An experienced dentist shares how you can make the teething stage more comfortable for your toddler.
Toddler Teething Tips
Updated: November 14, 2023
Medically reviewed by  Dr. Taoheed Jimoh
Table of contents

Teething, as it is referred to colloquially, is also called tooth eruption, which is when a person grows a tooth into their oral cavity. The tooth in question, while growing, will have to move through the bone where they have undergone primordial developments, through the gum, and into the oral cavity. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, an eruption is the upward movement of a tooth from its developmental position in the alveolar (jaw) bone into the oral cavity. It is important to note that appropriate tooth eruption (teething) should only occur in the upward direction for a tooth to be properly placed. 

Physiologic Process of Teething

Teething involves several metabolic and physiologic processes which can have external manifestations in your baby. This often presents as pain, itching, or both. This is why many parents and Dentists regard this period as an important developmental milestone in their children.

The metabolic process of teething, the active eruption, majorly involves processes that allow the new teeth to move through compact bone. In this case, the bone will need to continuously remodel around the tooth as it moves until it reaches its final position in the oral cavity.

When the growing teeth get to the gum, they must pass through; this is where the predominant itching and discomfort manifests. During this eruption stage, it is common to see slight swelling, redness, pain or discomfort for your child. Other behavioral changes you may notice in this period is drooling of saliva and oral habits such as thumb sucking. This process is transient and should immediately subside when the teeth appear in the oral cavity.

Timing of Eruption

Humans have three stages of Dentition: the primary dentition stage, the mixed dentition stage, and the permanent dentition stage. Knowing the timing of each tooth eruption will help you monitor your child’s teeth and overall oral health development and allow you to seek appropriate help if needed.

Teething typically begins with the eruption of the first tooth, which occurs at about six months of age, and this process will continue until the complete set of baby teeth are complete at about two and half years of age.

This timing is the average as recorded in various studies and research over the years; however, variation may occur in the length and timing of the teeth eruption.

When your baby has her first birthday, they will probably have at least eight teeth. The first eight teeth probably didn’t upset your baby all that much. Oh, sure, maybe her gums were a little red and swollen, and she drooled a little more than usual; she may have been a little irritable when those first teeth emerged, and maybe she—and you—lost a little sleep for a few nights.

The difference in the second year lies in the type of teeth that come in. The first eight teeth that appear are almost always incisors: the relatively thin, flat, and sharp front teeth used for biting rather than chewing. They cut through your child’s gums easily and, therefore, cause little pain. The second year brings two sets of molars: the bigger and broader teeth used for chewing. These teeth have a harder time breaking through the gums. For this reason, they tend to cause more pain than incisors.

The first molars usually erupt between 12 and 15 months; a second set will probably come through in the months before your child’s second birthday. Unfortunately, your baby will likely find them very painful and will, quite understandably, be irritable for days.

What to Look Out For When Your toddler is Teething

Mother holds toddler who is teething. What to look out for when your toddler is teething.
Image source: iStock

As mentioned above, most symptoms of teething are caused when the tooth pushes through the gum to appear in the oral cavity. Things that you can look out for, and notice include.

  • Swollen or sore gums
  • Painful and tender gums
  • Redness of the gums
  • Drooling of Saliva
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty Chewing

These are common teething symptoms; however, they are not confined to only teething. Even though it will usually cause irritability, don’t assume your baby is teething just because she seems cranky. Look for another cause, especially if her irritability is accompanied by fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or loss of appetite. Teething cannot cause any of these symptoms; only illness can.

If you suspect teething is the source of your baby’s changed mood, check out your baby’s mouth yourself. Look for swollen and red gums, and then feel with your finger. You may be able to feel the lump of a tooth underneath the gums in the days before it appears.

Most importantly, if these symptoms persist over a few days, see your dentist immediately.

How to Ease Your Toddler's Teething Pain 

When it comes to easing babies and ensuring their comfort, it is not uncommon for parents to seek various means, some fictitious and simply fairy tales. Hence, it is essential to separate fact from fiction.

It was once believed that a coral necklace worn around a child’s neck would ease the passage of teeth through the gums. However, this could even prove dangerous for your child because they expose your child to strangulation and choking hazard, as reported by the FDA. The jewelry’s beads can be produced from various materials, including silicone, wood, marble, amber, or hard plastic, some of which are unsuitable for adults or young children.

Other methods used by different parents include topical materials like teething gels, sprays, ointments, and creams. While these materials are available over the counter (OTC) in many drug stores, they are discouraged and not FDA-approved for this use because of the active ingredient—benzocaine. Benzocaine is a local anesthetic agent used for extensive oral and surgical procedures, and prolonged use can lead to systemic deficiencies like methemoglobinemia. In this condition, the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is significantly lowered.

In addition, the ointments, spray, and gels are quickly washed off your toddlers’ mouths; therefore, they only offer limited relief.

Don’t try to soothe your teething child with a bottle (or prolonged and overnight breastfeeding). Because sucking may cause even more pain, avoid bottle-feeding if possible. These practices often lead to Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay). The AAPD has consequently advised that by 12 months old, you should introduce your child to feeding with cups instead of bottle feeders.

Toddler is teething as mother holds him. Toddler teething tips.
Image source: iStock

So far, we have walked you through the things not to do and why you shouldn’t do them for your toddlers, so what exactly can you do?

You can try rubbing your baby’s gum or tooth directly with your clean finger.

You can give your child a firm rubber teething ring to gnaw on.

You can soak a clean washcloth in cold water, squeeze the excess out and use it to massage the sore areas.

Introduce your child to healthy solid food as they grow their first set of teeth between the age of six to twelve months.

Ensure that any chewable teething toy or massage item used is not sweetened, as this can lead to early oral health problems for your little ones. If the pain is severe and increasing, consult your pediatric dentist as soon as possible to get proper consultation and better treatment options to relieve the pain. Do not use any pain relief medication without consulting a doctor. Common OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may cause unwanted side effects that may aggravate their condition.

In summary, amidst all the crankiness and discomfort, a teething toddler is only experiencing an expected developmental milestone. Therefore, every parent must pay attention to their needs and engage in safe and approved means of treating their symptoms. Consult your pediatrician or dentist if symptoms persist, as they can better understand the health care needs of your child.

Sources +

Safely Soothing Teething Pain and Sensory Needs in Babies and Older Children. (2018, May 23). U.S. Food And Drug Administration.

Dr. Taoheed Jimoh

About Taoheed

Taoheed is a recently-qualified doctor who has trained in various hospital units, (… Read more

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