Why do babies teethe?

August 27, 2015


Proper oral care is important at all ages, even for babies who haven't sprouted their teeth yet. While parents may not see the eruption of baby teeth until the child is 3 to 12 months old, that doesn't mean the teeth aren't developing. In fact, a baby's teeth start initially forming while he or she is still in the womb - they are just developing below the gum surface.1 Though the growth may not be visible to a parent, a baby can still feel the effects of budding teeth, which may be uncomfortable.

"Teeth move beneath the gum's surface as they prepare to erupt."

What is the process of teething?
Though the term is often used to describe when babies gnaw on toys to sooth their gums, teething, otherwise known as cutting or odontiasis, technically refers to the process in which infants' teeth break through the gums.2

The teeth move beneath the gum's surface as they prepare to erupt. Because of this, the gum tissue can appear red or swollen. Parents may also notice a fluid-filled area that resembles blood blisters over the erupting tooth.

When do babies start teething?
This process may begin as early as 3 months of age, and some children may not develop all their teeth until they are 24 months old. Though an extremely rare condition, some babies are born with a few teeth. These are referred to as natal teeth, and it only happens about once in every 2,000 to 3,000 live births.2 Even if a baby is born with these, they will still experience the other teething symptoms as the rest of their teeth develop.

What are the symptoms?
While some babies don't exhibit any symptoms at all, other infants show clear signs of teething. Drooling is one sign of this process. Parents will often notice excess saliva dripping from their babies' mouths because infants don't have full muscle control yet at the time their teeth first start to form.3

While drooling is a normal symptom of teething, it can lead to other problems such as chapped lips and facial skin rashes. To combat this problem, parents should frequently wipe their baby's mouth throughout the day and consider applying a facial lotion to sooth irritated skin.

Discomfort is another common symptom of teething, which may result in crying, fussing or hesitation to feed. In comparison, it's the same sort of pain adults feel when their wisdom teeth grow in. Many babies will try to alleviate their own pain by chewing on toys. Parents can help this process along by providing teething rings and a cool wash cloth or rubbing their fingers over the infant's gums. If the baby is already eating solid foods, parents can use a peeled and cooled cucumber or carrot, too.4 However, it's important to keep a watchful eye in case the baby gnaws off a piece of the food, which could pose a choking hazard.

Babies may chew on toys to alleviate teething pain.
Babies may chew on toys to alleviate teething pain.

When should the first dentist appointment be scheduled?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests that parents find a dentist for their child no later than his or her first birthday.5 Children should see the dentist every six months after the initial visit, unless otherwise indicated by a dental professional.

When starting a family dental plan, it's important to implement at-home care, too. Parents can gently rub a damp cloth on a baby's gums to remove bacteria before the first teeth appear. Once the initial baby teeth erupt, a soft-bristled toothbrush can be used with a rice-size portion of toothpaste. If you're ever concerned about your baby's teething habits or symptoms, contact a dental professional. 


1. "Teething: Your baby's first teeth," Baby Center. http://www.babycenter.com/0_teething-your-babys-first-teeth_11243.bc

2. "Teething," MedicineNet.com. http://www.medicinenet.com/teething/article.htm

3. "Drooling," MedicineNet.com. http://www.medicinenet.com/drooling/symptoms.htm

4. "Teething: Tips for soothing sore gums," Mayo Clinic, Jan. 29, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/teething/art-20046378

5. "Frequently asked questions," American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://www.aapd.org/resources/frequently_asked_questions/


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