Teething is the time in infancy and early childhood when the primary teeth erupt through the gums.
What is going on in the body?
The age at which a child begins to get teeth can vary. The average age is about 7 months, but some infants' teeth erupt when they are only 3 or 4 months old. Excessive drooling and chewing can precede teeth eruption by several months and often start as early as 3-4 months.
Other babies do not begin to get teeth until they are 12 months or even a little older. Tooth eruption at any of these ages is normal. Occasionally infants are born with erupted teeth, but these are often abnormal and fall out.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Teething is a normal part of a child's growth and development. In general, children follow a certain pattern of tooth eruption. In some children, teeth may erupt late, in a different sequence, or not at all.
Some of the conditions that affect normal tooth eruption inlcude:
- congenital conditions that affect tooth development, such as abnormal development of the embryo known as ectodermal dysplasia
- Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that causes mental retardation and physical abnormalities, such as delayed tooth eruption
- malformation syndromes, or conditions in which some teeth fail to develop
- progeria, a condition in which the body ages prematurely
- prolonged illness
- rickets, a condition of abnormal bone growth caused by a lack of vitamin D in the diet
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Teething is part of normal growth and development and cannot be prevented. Some cases of abnormal tooth eruption can be prevented by a nutritious diet with adequate vitamin D.
How is the condition diagnosed?
The healthcare professional can diagnose teething with a medical history and physical examination. The professional will check carefully to rule out diseases or infections that may cause fussiness in infants.
Long Term Effects
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Teething itself has no long-term effects. Teeth that fail to develop properly may interfere with nutrition and increase an individual's risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
What are the risks to others?
Teething is not contagious and poses no risk to others.
What are the treatments for the condition?
If an infant seems to have discomfort during teething, it may help to do the following.
- Give the infant something hard to chew on, like a teething ring or an unsweetened teething biscuit.
- Gently rub the gums with a finger or a soft, cold washcloth.
- Give a pain medication, such as acetaminophen oral drops.
Oral teething pain relievers that are rubbed on the infant's gums probably are not much help, since the saliva in the mouth quickly washes the medication away. If the fussing is more than mild or is persistent, the situation should be discussed with the baby's healthcare professional.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Pain medications such as acetaminophen may cause stomach upset or an allergic reaction.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
Once they have erupted, the baby's teeth should be cleaned with a damp washcloth after feedings.
How is the condition monitored?
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.