Teething and Sleep

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Is your baby breaking from a sound sleep pattern and suddenly starting to wake through the night? If you’ve ruled out other causes, like a cold or flu, teething may be the problem.

The discomfort that teething causes can start well in advance of any teeth actually appearing. Some babies are affected as early as four months of age. At this age, even if Baby isn’t officially teething, his mouth is getting ready for the teeth that will emerge. In preparation for the eruption of teeth, a baby produces more saliva. The saliva can collect in the back of the throat, causing congestion that is very difficult to relieve. Along with the congestion and copious salivating, babies who are about to cut teeth may experience considerable pain, not unlike a toothache or headache in an adult.

If you aren’t sure whether teething is the culprit, here is a list of common teething symptoms:

  • fussiness
  • drooling – clothes and sheets will likely be wet
  • runny nose
  • rash on the chin or near the mouth, usually from the excessive saliva
  • biting and chewing on toys, clothes, or anything that gets near the mouth
  • red cheeks
  • rejecting breast or bottle
  • more need to suck
  • swollen gums that may appear a purplish color
  • soft stools
  • diaper rash

Some parents also report fever and other flu-like symptoms as signs of teething. Medical and dental professionals will tell you that teething does not cause fever, so any feverish symptoms should be reported to your health care provider, especially if they are accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea.

There are a few things you can do to alleviate teething problems.

  • Let Baby chew on a cold washcloth or teething ring. For added comfort, you can chill the teething ring. Be sure not to freeze it though – plastic can crack when frozen.
  • Babies who use pacifiers might find relief in a chilled pacifier.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly then, with a wet finger, rub her gums.
  • Clean the gums with a baby or toddler toothbrush.
  • For drooling, you can try regularly drying the chin and mouth with a receiving blanket or cloth. Clothes will also get wet from drooling so you may need to change Baby more frequently to relieve the discomfort from cold, wet cloth near his chin and neck. Drool bibs may offer some help, but it has been my experience that they do not prevent the saliva from soaking through and they quickly end up covered in drool themselves.
  • There are many gentle salves and balms designed for the tender skin of a baby’s face. Try these on the chin and mouth area to help with the rash caused by drooling. You can also use petroleum jelly.
  • Older babies and toddlers may enjoy a glass of cold water or frozen juice or yogurt. Remember that too much sugar is not good for the teeth, so it may be best to make these “popsicles” yourself out of real juice or yogurt.
  • Acetaminophen is usually recommended for the pain. Dentists discourage the use of oral gels that you place on gums because of the danger that a baby may swallow some. Also, these gels can numb a baby’s lips, making a bad situation worse. Health food stores sell homeopathic teething tablets. Some parents swear by them but others don’t like them because some brands contain sugar. As with any medication, it is best to consult with your health care provider before use.
  • Dentists do not recommend the use of teething biscuits because of the sugar they contain. If you do decide to use them on occasion, do not give them to older babies. Babies with enough teeth can break off pieces of these biscuits (or any other hard food you might think to offer), creating a choking hazard.
  • Breastfeeding mothers should nurse often for comfort and to provide nutrients for babies who may have trouble eating.

Teething often causes interruptions to sleep that may last beyond the cessation of pain. Babies, wary of pain and with their sleep disrupted, may develop some separation anxiety. As a parent, you may find that a little extra attention and TLC can help your baby through this tough time.

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