Teething or "cutting teeth" is the initial process of tooth growth through the gum. This process generally occurs periodically from infancy until adolescence. The last episode of teething occurs if the wisdom teeth come in, between ages 17 and 21. In some cases, a bluish swelling is visible shortly before the arrival of a new tooth. During this early stage, when the tooth begins to push through the gum, there will be some level of discomfort. Although this soreness is normal, research casts doubt on a popular myth that teething pain is also associated with other childhood illnesses.
Teething has become something of an "excuse du jour" for a young child who has a fever, diarrhea or earache. A study in the British Dental Journal shows no association between teething and these other common childhood maladies. Teething is more likely to be found in children who drool excessively, chew their fingers, become irritable, and cry. These children should be monitored closely by mom and dad and by the family dentist if questions or concerns arise. Children with fever or other illnesses may need evaluation by the family pediatrician, depending on the severity of their symptoms.
Teething is a common problem that can be alleviated in a number of ways. I recommend chilled teething rings or cold washcloths to ease discomfort. Teething rings with a food component, such as the teething biscuit, should be avoided because they can promote cavities. Parents can also use child strength acetaminophen (Tylenol®), or apply a mild topical anesthetic ointment like Orajel® to reduce discomfort.
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