How to ease the effects of teethingTeething can make babies miserable and their parents frustrated. We talk with a pediatrician and young mothers for the best ways to help baby through this phase.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- At 7 months old, Abigail Foster is toothless, but her parents see signs that those little white choppers may soon emerge.
“She’s getting fussy,” said her mom Kjerstin (Gunderson) Foster, who grew up in Grand Forks and lives in Newport News, Va., with husband Jonah. “That’s why we think it’s right around the corner.”
Foster has tried various remedies to alleviate her baby’s pain, she said, including “those key-looking things that you put in the freezer.”
Abigail would chew on one of those for a few minutes, then quit.
“It numbs the gum area, but when it warms up a bit, any pain is going to come right back.”
She also tried teething tablets but stopped after hearing they could cause seizures.
Foster is leery of manufactured products for teething pain, she said. Some have “many unpronounceable ingredients which make me wonder what I’m giving to my child.”
Although admittedly not an expert on those products, she said, “I just want to ensure that I’m giving my child the healthiest start possible in her life and avoiding chemicals and ingredients that can have unknown effects on children.”
Her search was on for more natural, homeopathic methods.
“The two biggest things I found were an ‘amber teething necklace’ and freezing breast milk,” she said.
She plans to put ice cubes, made from breast milk, into a mesh feeder to give to Abigail to chew on, she said. “It’s going to be messy.”
The amber necklace was suggested by “a lot of people,” she said. “(Many) who use them swear by them; they use no other gels or tablets.”
The numerous recommendations “sold us on it,” she said. She likes that it’s a natural substance and no chemicals are ingested.
Amber, a naturally occurring resin, has been used for centuries as a traditional healing jewelry in the Baltic region of Europe where the most effective form of the resin originates.
Contrary to what one might think, babies don’t chew on the amber teething necklace, Foster said. They wear it next to the skin.
“The heat of the skin warms up the necklace and that releases the acid. I don’t understand it, but it seems to make a difference.”
The warmth of the body releases the amber’s natural oils which are absorbed through the skin, according to the AmberTeethingNecklace.org website. The oils’ succinic acid has healing properties that help relieve the pain, inflammation and drooling related to teething.
Dr. Erin King, a pediatrician at Altru Health System in Grand Forks, said she is “not very familiar” with the amber teething necklace.
She said naturopathic remedies, such as teething tablets and liquids, “are not outwardly harmful and could be effective.”
The FDA does not regulate the production of natural supplements and naturopathic medications, she said. The quantity of the active ingredient in them is generally small.
“While some are effective, the manufacturing of these products is not closely regulated. There can be a lot of variability in lots that are produced.”
For teething pain, King recommends medications such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, but the latter should not be used in children six months of age or younger, she said. “Orajel can help.”
She also suggests parents give babies teething rings or washcloths, which have been put into the freezer, to gnaw on.
For older children, “cool things, like popsicles” can help, she said.
“The things parents can get over-the-counter are fine.”
Some people have looked beyond the medicine cabinet to the liquor cabinet for solutions.
A lot of parents, especially years ago, rubbed a bit a liquor on baby’s gums to soothe them.
“We don’t recommend that,” King said. “With a smaller child, it takes a smaller amount of alcohol to have the side effects — like (would occur in) an adult: intoxication — depending on the amount the parents use.”
Babies’ gums “are highly absorbent, so the alcohol goes into the bloodstream quicker.”
Alcohol induces sleep, but it is not a pain reliever, she said.
Others recommend cold celery sticks and frozen foods such as green beans, bagels, fruit slices and fruit-juice ice cubes.
Stages of teething
Teething usually begins between the ages of 7 and 9 months, King said, and ends at about 2 years of age, but that can vary considerably.
Typically, the first teeth appear on the front center of the bottom gums, she said, followed by top center teeth and later the molars.
“The level of pain is pretty similar (with various teeth) but sometimes, with molars, the pain is referred up to the ears.”
Babies usually get the first molar at age 1 year and the second at age 2.
“One thing I see pretty often is parents who think their child is teething at 4 months,” because they’re seeing a lot of drooling, she said, “but they’re not usually teething.
“At that age, the saliva glands kick into high gear… Babies are born with saliva but don’t produce a lot until they’re older.”
At 4 months, “babies’ hands are not well-coordinated… so they like to put everything in their mouths,” she said. “It’s an exploratory behavior, not a teething behavior.”
Other symptoms that suggest teething is in progress are flushed cheeks, drools, loose stool and tummy trouble, King said.
She noted an urban legend that says when kids are teething they get a fever.
“A lot of people think that, but it’s not necessarily true,” she said, and cautioned that “(A) fever over the 101-degree range is not due to teething.”
For Abigail, the amber necklace seems to be working, her mom said. “Honestly, she seems to be a little less cranky and drools less when she’s wearing it.”
The necklace is too short for the baby to pull it into her mouth.
“She doesn’t even know it’s there,” Foster said.
The day care Abigail attends doesn’t allow children to wear them, she said. “They consider it a choking risk.”
Abigail wears the necklace “most days” after coming home from day care and on weekends. She doesn’t wear it to bed.
Foster bought it for $12 about two months ago from a local retailer whom she trusts, she said.
Consumers are warned about “fake” amber teething necklaces made of glass or plastic, and are encouraged to seek out reputable dealers. Lighter-colored amber is more effective and true amber is warm to the touch.
“If you order through the Internet, you never know what you’re getting,” she said. “Plus, she looks adorable in it.”
Snuggled and cuddled
Alicia Jordan, mother of Marcus, 3½, recommends frozen washcloths and teething rings, chewy sticks and “teethers.”
A chewy stick resembles a toothbrush with plastic nubs on it, the Grand Forks mom said.
Teethers are hard, rubber silicone devices that she said “are short enough, so you don’t have to put it too far into the mouth.”
She also used the Orajel swab stick, which look like a Q-tip.
“The gel flows in, so you don’t get your fingers chewed, especially when he was dealing with pain.”
Tylenol didn’t work out so well, she said. “It probably took the edge off, but he was still fussy and rubbing his fingers on this mouth.”
When teething, Marcus was cranky; he cried a lot and had a runny nose, she said. “That’s how we knew he was going to sprout another tooth.”
Marcus started teething at 9½ months.
“He was a late teether,’” she said, and was fully outfitted with teeth at 2½.
“We made it through,” she said, although “there were a few sleepless nights...
“He wanted to be snuggled and cuddled. We (she and her husband Bert) took turns walking around with him.”
The process of teething “is one of those things that’s different for every parent and every kid. What works for one kid isn’t going to work for another.”
Jordan said she often turned to an expert on the subject: her mother, Debbie Anderson of Edmore.
“She was very good at giving advice, tips and tricks that worked very well. She has a lot of experience.”