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Is My Baby Teething?

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Teething has long been the knee-jerk diagnosis for a host of baby behaviors and symptoms. But in fact, for many babies teething is not the major ordeal we've been led to believe it is. And just as it's easy for an anxious parent to mistake teething symptoms for illness, it's also easy to jump to the conclusion that your child is teething when the truth is that she's ill.

When Do Babies Teethe?

Babies can start teething anywhere from 3 to 15 months, and they keep pushing through new teeth until they're at least 18 months old; a baby's first set, molars included, is usually complete at around age 2.

What Does Teething Look Like?

When experts refer to signs of teething, they mean the cluster of symptoms that begin four days before a tooth erupts and end three days after the tooth has broken the surface. While every baby experiences teething differently, depending on the density of their gums, their temperament and their capacity to handle pain, you can be pretty sure that yours will show these signs:

  • Drooling: The byproduct of a baby's saliva production, drooling begins when a child is about 3 months old and lasts until he's between 12 and 15 months old - more or less the same time period as teething. Drooling is a classic symptom of your baby's teeth gradually pushing toward the gum's surface, a process that can start months before the first tooth's eruption. But the fact that your baby is drooling doesn't have to mean that a tooth is coming in. Saliva is crucial for human digestion, and researchers believe that all this early saliva production may actually help babies' digestive systems to develop.

  • Facial Rash: Whether or not they are teething, babies often have bumpy red rashes on their cheeks and chins - not surprising, given all that drooling. Wipe your baby's lips and chin frequently to minimize rashes.

Many babies also experience these symptoms:

  • Fever: The inflammation caused by tooth eruption may be accompanied by a mild fever, but running a temperature is not a classic teething symptom. Any fever of 101 degrees or more, say pediatricians, has nothing to do with teething - even if your child is cutting a tooth at the same time. Monitor and treat it as you would any other fever.

  • Diarrhea: The jury is still out on whether loose stools are a symptom of teething or just a byproduct of a fledgling immune system. If fever and/or vomiting accompanies the diarrhea, it's likely that a virus is to blame.

  • Irritability: When irritability goes along with swollen gums and drooling, and your baby's also rubbing his gums or biting, he may well be teething. The irritability could become more intense in the middle of the night, when distractions like parents, toys and meals are absent. But since it could also be the result of illness, keep an eye out for any other symptoms.

  • Ear Pulling: The pain that teething causes in the jaw can transfer to the ear canal, and a baby will often pull on his ears in hopes of alleviating it. But since ear pulling is also a telltale sign of an ear infection, it's important to get a take on how strong the pain is. Teething pain is dull in comparison to that of an ear infection, making a teething baby far more distractible than one with an ear infection. If you can’t distract your baby from daytime irritability and/or a fever accompanies the ear pulling, chances are your child has an ear infection.

Trust Your Experience

The good news is that after a while, you'll be a pro at identifying when your child is teething. Each baby has her own cluster of symptoms - or lack of them - and they are likely to remain the same, tooth after tooth.

 
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