Teething is the eruption process of the baby teeth (also known as the milk or deciduous teeth). Teething usually begins from around the age of 3-6 months but this varies greatly between children. Most children develop their first teeth between the ages of 6 and 12 months, but some do not start teething until the age of twelve months.

The teeth erupt in a sequence but it can take numerous years for all the milk teeth to erupt, which is also named 'cutting through'. Typically, the teeth push through in pairs and they erupt in the following sequence:

  • Lower central incisors (2 teeth - usually develop between 5 and 7 months)
  • Upper central incisors (2 teeth - usually develop between 6 and 8 months)
  • Upper lateral incisors (2 teeth - usually develop between 9 and 11 months)
  • Lower lateral incisors (2 teeth - usually develop between 10 and 12 months)
  • First molars (4 teeth - usually develop between 12 and 16 months)
  • Canine teeth (4 teeth - usually develop between 16 and 20 months)
  • Second molars (4 teeth - usually develop between 20 and 30 months)

It is common for girls to develop teeth earlier than boys but this is not always the case. Teething patterns may run in families as the pattern does not have anything to do with the health or development of the child.

Signs of teething

Teething affects children in different ways. Some find the experience very painful and traumatic while others cope well. Signs of teething include:

  • Raised temperature (this does not usually indicate illness, but temperature does sometimes increase when the teeth push through the gums)
  • Irritability
  • Being clingy and emotional
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bruised or swollen gums
  • Biting and chewing on objects, such as toys
  • Salivating and dribbling more than usual
  • Red, flushed cheeks
  • Disturbed sleep patterns

Many children find it comforting to bite on objects when they are teething, so ensure that the objects they are chewing and biting on are safe. Avoid leaving small parts or things that could make them choke around the house. You can buy toys such as rattles and teething rings which are specially designed to ease the gums during teething. Cold objects such as liquid filled cool teething rings often provide relief for the gums.

Some children experience pain when they are teething, in which case over-the-counter pain relief can be effective. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice and ensure that you follow the dosage instructions carefully. Some medications are not suitable for very young children. Sugar-free teething gel can also be beneficial but most products are only suitable for children over the age of 4 months.

Caring for milk teeth

It is important to care for your baby's teeth and dentists advise taking steps to look after the teeth from a very early age using a soft brush. Check-ups are important and dentists recommend organising the first check-up at around the age of 12 months. Not only are examinations a way of monitoring the progress and health of the teeth, but they also allow children to get used to the sights and sounds of the dental surgery.

Although the milk teeth do fall out naturally it is important to take good care of them, as premature tooth loss can affect the development of the adult teeth. Children who have good oral health are likely to have healthy teeth in adulthood.

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