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Easing Teething Pain

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: What is the best way to ease the pain of teething?

A: As you are probably aware, increased drooling and a seemingly unending desire to chew on things usually mark the beginning of your infant's teething. These symptoms will become apparent whne your child's 5-7 months of age. It can be painful for your child when the gums around the new, erupting teeth swell. Therefore, he may cry more often, become irritable, and even have a low-grade temperature elevation (< 101.0 F). There are many ideas to choose from for easing the discomfort of teething, but it's hard to say which one is "best."

Try giving him something hard to chew on, but make sure it's big enough that he will not swallow or choke on it. A hard rubber teething ring may be soothing, but be sure to take it out of the freezer before it becomes rock hard. Teething aids that are frozen, particularly plastic ones, may actually bruise already swollen gums. Massaging the gums with one of your fingers may also help. There are gel medications to rub on the gums, but these usually aren't long-lasting because they tend to wash out of your baby's mouth within minutes. Also, the FDA has warned that benzocaine gels, such as Anbesol, Orajel, Baby Orajel, Orabase, and Hurricaine, can be harmful to babies and should be used sparingly, and never more than four times a day.

An occasional dose of acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol®) can be used to lower a slight fever or relieve pain. However, if your child seems particularly unhappy or has a fever of 101.0 F or higher, it is more likely not due to teething. In addition, teething isn't believed to cause diarrhea or sleep problems. If any of these symptoms occur while your infant is teething, consult your child's doctor as it may very well be due to something else.

Hank Bernstein
Children's Hospital

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

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