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If you’ve just felt a sharp little gum with your finger or spotted a fresh flash of white when your baby smiles, then you’ll be thinking, ‘Ah! She’s started teething!’ Says Claire Stevens, consultant in paediatric dentistry and a mum of two, toothfairyblog.uk. But this process started months and months ago, when your baby was just a tiny dot in your womb.
And once you understand what’s happening, you can help her cope with this big change to grow those pearly whites.
Signs and symptoms of teething
It’s good to know where the next tooth erupts, so you can look for signs while you’re cleaning her teeth. When a tooth is ready to come through the gum, you’ll be able to see its white tip just underneath your baby’s gum line. Her body releases a chemical that causes her gum to become less dense, so the tooth can push through easily. But the tooth still must break through the top layer of her gum, which can cause some discomfort.
It’s good to be on the watch for early symptoms, so you’re ready to ease a tooth’s arrival.
Bulge in her gum
A translucent film or grey bubble over the area
Excess saliva production
Refusing to eat
When do babies start teething?
Six weeks after conception, the cells that will eventually become your baby’s teeth started to form underneath her jaw. And, as she grew in your womb, these gradually became more solid and structured so, when she was born, she had a full set of teeth buds sitting in her jaw. These continue to grow until they’re right underneath her gum line at the grand old age of around the 3 - 12 months of age mark, which is when teething symptoms normally start.
So, don’t be surprised if your baby is grumbling way before you see the first sign of a tooth: before they break through, her teeth are already putting pressure on her gums and causing her mouth to ache. The best way to keep an eye on this is to give her gums a rub with a clean finger. Gums have the same nerve pathways as cheeks and ears, so it can lead to discomfort in other areas of her face – for example, you might spot her pulling her ear or rubbing her cheek.
Read more: Baby teeth order chart
At what age do teeth emerge?
The buds for different types of her teeth grow at different rates. First to emerge at around six months will be her bottom two front teeth, followed a month later by her upper middle teeth, her central incisors. At nine to 12 months, she’ll get four more, one on either side of these central teeth, and these are her lateral incisors.
They usually emerge in pairs: two on one side, then the two on the other. Around 14 months, her first molars – bigger and with a flat surface to crush food – will appear top and bottom, leaving a gap between them and her incisors.
At 18 months, four sharper canine teeth fill this top and the bottom: these are used to tear food. At around 26 months, two pairs of second molars will emerge at the back of her mouth, with broad flat surfaces to grind up her food. Of course, the age when teeth come through varies a lot, just as some babies talk early and others walk early, although if she reaches her first birthday without any teeth emerging, then it’s a good idea to visit your dentist.
When should babies have their milk teeth?
But by the time she’s around two and a half, she’s likely to have her full set of 20 baby teeth. You’ll find that she reacts differently to these teeth types coming through – what soothes an incisor might not work so well on a molar, which is why it’s great to have lots of ways to help your baby. Her front teeth have flatter, thinner edges and tend to slide through her gums so are usually the easiest to cut.
So, although she may grumble with these first teeth, it’s because the discomfort is a new sensation for her. It will take around eight days for the tooth to push through the gum and a few months to continue growing to full size, at a rate of 1mm a month. With some teeth, she might not feel up to feeding, as the suction can make her sore gums feel worse, and if she’s weaning, she might also refuse solid food.
Be persistent as hunger usually wins out, but if she’s reluctant to feed a few days give your doctor or paediatric dentist a call to check everything’s OK. Your baby may also bite to relieve the pressure in her gums, so receiving a nip on your fingers or while you’re breastfeeding can indicate a tooth is well on its way.
Things to soothe teething pains
Some babies might have all these symptoms, while others may sail through without a sign. And some teeth might cause a run of restless nights, while others will pop up one morning without warning. Whichever you find, there are lots of ways that will help your baby when she needs it, from teething rings to gels, and the secret is to experiment and mix and match your methods with each new tooth to find what really works.
To numb your baby’s gums, give her a teether that’s been chilled in the fridge for half an hour. Or if she’s over six months, offer her some cold water in a cup. Depending on her age, feed her chilled fruit purées or pop a chunk of frozen banana or plums in a baby feeder mesh bag for her to gnaw on safely.