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Teething Troubles: Sorting Fact from Fiction

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Updated on Jan 25, 2012

You're up in the middle of the night—again. Junior is running a low fever, irritable, with diarrhea. He can't stop chewing on his hands and pulling at his ears. You consider calling the doctor, but with these symptoms you think it's more likely to be teething troubles. But is it really?

Contrary to popular opinion, teething doesn't necessarily cause the symptoms we think, and brushing off the first signs of illness could lead to a more serious condition. It's not just parents who are confused­—Dr Grant McIntyre, Consultant & Honorary Senior Lecturer in Orthodontics at Dundee Dental Hospital, and author of "Teething Troubles" from the British Dental Journal, indicates that healthcare professionals also offer teething as an inappropriate diagnosis. Now, we're setting the record straight on these common teething myths.

  • Teething causes fever. FALSE. A virus causes fevers, not teething—but McIntyre notes that fevers and facial rashes are some of the most common symptoms parents brush off as being teething-related. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns not to accept your infant's fever as a simple teething symptom—otherwise you might miss an ear infection, urinary tract infection or even meningitis. Get it checked out or call your pediatrician's office for more advice on whether your baby needs to be seen.
  • Teething children often drool. TRUE. This one's a no-brainer. Extra drooling is to be expected as those little teeth cut through the gums. Give him a bib and pat his chin dry when necessary to prevent chafed skin.
  • Teething babies get diarrhea. FALSE. McIntyre says that diarrhea is another symptom parents and health providers mistakenly associate with teething—but diarrhea could be brought on by any number of unrelated causes. Talk to your pediatrician if you're concerned about your little one's upset stomach.
  • Teething infants have diaper rash. FALSE. Teething doesn't cause diaper rash—wetness and ammonia from diarrhea is the likely culprit. If your baby has diaper rash without an upset stomach, and you can't seem to clear it up, don't just put it down to teething. A visit to your pediatrician might be needed to check it isn't a yeast infection.
  • Teething babies wake in the night. FALSE. Separation anxiety is a much more likely culprit, particularly if your tiny tot hasn't showed any other teething troubles during the day.
  • Teething kids pull on their ears. MAYBE. The back molars especially might cause ear pressure and pain. But if your little one is tugging on his ears it could signal a painful ear infection—especially if a fever and fussiness accompanies the ear-pulling.
  • Teething hurts. MAYBE. It depends on the child. Some babies find teething harder than others. Unfortunately, just because your infant breezed through his first few teeth doesn't mean he'll always find it so easy—some teeth are more problematic.
  • Teething babies want to chew on everything. Most likely TRUE. While teething babies do like to gnaw on objects, chewing is also a normal developmental stage. Some babies have the opposite reaction—refusing to eat anything—if their inflamed gums are too sore for food. Offer him a mesh feeder filled with frozen chunks of fruit or a cool teething ring to satisfy the need to chomp while cooling his gums and reducing the swelling. McIntyre also suggests chilling bread sticks or veggies to help ease your tot's symptoms.
  • Teething causes a stuffy nose. FALSE. A common cold's the most likely cause of your baby's runny nose. Although chewing on anything he can get his hands on probably increased his chances of picking up a minor illness, teething itself isn't the reason he has a stuffy nose.
  • Teething babies are fussy. MAYBE. While some parents win the teething lottery—discovering new teeth out of the blue—other infants loudly make sure their parents are acutely aware they are cutting new teeth. If your child is unusually fussy, try to pinpoint the reason before you dismiss the behavior as teething-related. If teething is causing your child discomfort, McIntyre suggests trying natural remedies—like massage or aromatherapy—instead of relying on teething gels and pain medicine.

You know your baby best. If he's more fussy than usual, or something seems wrong, trust your instincts and get him checked out. After a while you'll learn to recognize his personal teething behavior and spot when he's not his normal self. Regardless of the signs and symptoms, give your teething tot a little extra love and attention, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that it won't last forever!

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