Mrs Alima Hammed walked into the health centre dejected because her baby had been sick. She was assured by her mother-in-law that her five-month-old baby Aliya was merely teething.
“Since two days ago, I noticed that she has developed boils all over her body. The boils make her really uncomfortable and unable to sleep well; it has been a concern to me,” Mrs Hammed told the nurse at the town’s health centre.
Within earshot was Mrs Sida Balogun whose baby is running stool. She observes that this always starts whenever Hammed was to get another tooth.
For decades, mothers have always associated teething with colds, diarrhoea, boils or fever. But researchers say this isn’t true and that teething most often just causes babies to be a little crankier, drool more and rub their irritated gums. Also, these symptoms should not last for more than three to five days.
In an analysis, published online February 18 in the journal Paediatrics, researchers said that though teething can make babies miserable, it rarely causes fevers above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or any other signs of illness
Although it is very common for parents to be confused about whether certain symptoms are related to a baby’s teething or an illness, teething can only cause signs and symptoms in the mouth and gums — but not elsewhere in the body.
Teething is the process by which an infant’s first teeth, often called the baby or milk teeth, appear by emerging through the gum. “It is a normal process of new teeth pushing through the gums and this process takes time,” said Dr Jerome Elusiyan, a consultant paediatrician at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching hospital, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
When a baby is teething, Dr Elusiyan said the parent may notice increased saliva, drooling, and a desire to chew, mild gum pain, slightly swollen gums over the cutting tooth, changes in appetite and low grade fever that is less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to him, “Most babies get their first tooth between six and nine months. A baby who is teething may start drooling more, resulting in a rash or irritable skin on the chin; they may become irritable, clingy and want to bite or chew on things more than the usual.
“The baby may act like their mouth hurts or wake up more often in the night. The gums will look swollen and bumpy and may be lighter or darker in colour.”
How long should the baby’s teething last?
There is no set date when the baby’s first tooth will arrive or how long it will take the tooth to make its journey through the gum. In some cases, a tooth emerges only after a couple of days of distress. In other cases, babies show symptoms of teething for months with nothing to show for it at all. But for most babies, the first few teeth are the worst. The next few teeth may come through more easily.
Teething is not an illness
It’s very common for parents to be confused about whether certain symptoms are related to a baby’s teething or an illness. Nonetheless, Dr Elusiyan said the teething process does not have any adverse symptoms other than that the teeth are growing.
“Teething does not cause colds, diarrhoea, vomiting, sores or blisters around the mouth, appetite loss, fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit or significant discomfort. If a baby gets sick around the same time teeth are coming in, mothers should not blame the illness on teething. Such babies require being taken to the hospitals for prompt treatment.
“Fevers are not a bad thing. They’re part of the body’s response to infection. But, parents should be aware that a fever is likely related to an illness.
“At the age when teeth are erupting, babies would have started to crawl. Their independency allows them to put things into their mouth which results to diarrhoea. It also tallies with the time they had lost their maternal immunity and as such experience more fever and malaria.”
Soothing painful gums
To help baby feel better while teething, a mother can use a clean finger (or cold teething ring) to gently rub the baby’s gum for about two minutes at a time. Many babies find this soothing.
Safe objects can also be provided for the baby to chew on, such as teething rings. Injury is possible when the baby is given a really hard object to chew on. If needed, an over the counter pain reliever that is labelled for their specific age can be given.
But aspirin or honey should not be given. Doctors do not recommend this for children less than a year old as honey may cause infant botulism. Teething is not a new thing, but mothers can make the best choice that suits their baby and make the most of it.