The early life of a child is a fascinating time, full of rapid changes and developments. One of the most important milestones in an infant’s life is when the teething process begins. This is the time, usually between 6-10 months of age, when an infant’s baby teeth begin to emerge from the gums. In addition to the actual arrival of the teeth, teething can also sometimes include side effects that cause discomfort for the baby. One that is sometimes associated with teething is the development of a fever.
Symptoms of Teething
Throughout history, numerous ailments have been erroneously attributed to teething. Myths abound to this day, and it is sometimes thought to cause diaper rash, diarrhea, a runny nose, or even an increased risk of getting sick. In truth, though, teething doesn’t cause any of these symptoms (though it is certainly possible that they could happen simultaneously). Teething does have some known side effects, however:
- Drooling: The teething process stimulates saliva as a part of the infant’s developing ability to eat solid food. Babies haven’t learned yet how to manage their newfound saliva, though, so it tends to leak out of the mouth and dribble.
- Chewing: Babies tend to put things in their mouth simply as part of growth and learning the different parts of their body, but they also start chewing on more things as their teeth start to emerge. The pressure on the gums can soothe soreness or discomfort that accompanies teething.
- Gum Pain: Not all infants feel pain in their gums when teething, but the days leading up to a tooth emerging can involve painful swelling for some. Usually any gum pain or soreness resolves once the tooth is fully in place.
- Rash: As saliva begins to be secreted and the baby drools on their mouth and face, digestive enzymes and bits of undigested food can cause the affected skin to become inflamed. This kind of rash usually appears as red splotchy patches that are raised and may even have tiny bumps.
A persistent myth is that teething causes excessive crying. While it’s true that the symptoms listed above can lead to a lot of discomfort that causes a baby to cry, the teething itself isn’t the cause. Indeed, a frequent error is to assume the crying is because of teething and then miss another ailment. Ear infections, for instance, are common in babies of teething age. Dismissing the crying can delay treatment for other conditions.
Does Teething Cause Fever?
Another popular belief about teething is that it causes fevers in babies, but various studies have shown that this is also a myth. A fever is defined as an increase in body temperature above the normal range. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby’s body temperature normally ranges from about 97° to 100° Fahrenheit when taken rectally (usually slightly lower when taken under the armpit). In order to be considered a fever, the temperature needs to be 100.4° or higher.
Research indicates that the teething process does sometimes cause a minor rise in body temperature. This tends to happen just before a new tooth emerges from the gums, and it subsides soon after. This is thought to happen because of mild inflammation in the area of the gums where the tooth is coming in. Yet while there can be a rise in temperature, it isn’t typically high enough to be counted as a fever; in the majority of kids, it’s a half-degree rise at most.
So even though a slightly higher temperature can be recorded, it doesn’t necessarily mean the child has a fever. In fact, if a baby does have a fever while teething, it’s more likely to be an indicator of a separate issue than an effect of teething. Almost all fevers in babies are caused by a viral or bacterial infection; in cases where the baby has a fever while teething, the infection and subsequent fever may be indirectly caused because of a baby putting a contaminated object in their mouth and becoming infected.
Tips For Soothing Sore Gums
When a baby is teething for the first time, it can feel like an exciting milestone for the parents. For the little one, however, it can be a confusing and painful experience. Fortunately, there are a number of tips and tricks for how to soothe your baby’s gums:
- Gum Massage: Pressure on the gums is one of the most effective methods of providing relief. With a clean finger, rub the baby’s gum gently for a couple minutes and repeat as needed.
- Teething Ring: Teething rings and teethers in general are designed to be chewed on. Most modern silicone rubber teething rings allow the baby to safely relieve any pain or discomfort from teeth that are nearly ready to emerge.
- Medication: Over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be helpful for infants that have above average levels of discomfort. However, this kind of medication should be used for a couple days at most.
Methods to Avoid
While there are a lot of ways to find relief for your baby’s teething discomfort, there are also some traditional and alternative methods that doctors recommend avoiding:
- Frozen Items: Teething rings and other objects can be chilled in the refrigerator in order to help soothe gums, but they should not be frozen. An infant’s gums are still developing and therefore fragile; the harshness of a frozen object can actually damage the gums.
- Teething Gels: Besides the fact that teething creams and gels are easily washed away, they also often contain an anesthetic chemical called benzocaine. Benzocaine use has recently been linked to methemoglobinemia, a rare blood condition that can lead to a number of additional symptoms.
- Teething Tablets: These homeopathic tablets are meant to be dissolved in water or under the tongue to bring pain relief. Unfortunately the FDA has warned that these tablets may contain dangerously high levels of belladonna, a type of weed in the toxic nightshade family.
- Teething Necklaces: Usually made up of amber beads, teething necklaces are meant to be a safe object for infants to chew on while teething. In addition to not really working, these beaded necklaces can become dangerous choking hazards if any of the beads come loose from the necklace.
When to Contact a Pediatrician
The possibility of a fever is a risk no parent can ignore. Fortunately, researchers have ruled out teething as a cause of fever, but that doesn’t mean a fever can’t happen while teething. If your infant has a fever of 100.4° or higher, it’s most likely a sign of a different condition and you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. At TrustCare Kids, we are dedicated to providing rapid healthcare for all your child’s health concerns. We offer pediatric primary care by appointment but you may also seek urgent care on a walk-in basis seven days a week.
This post has been medically reviewed by Dr. Catherine Phillippi, pediatrician at TrustCare Kids. She earned her medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in 1999 and completed her pediatric training at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/Arkansas Children’s Hospital.