Many children have a hard time when it comes to tooth eruption,or teething, and some have a very, very hard time of it. Teething can be so traumatic and painful to your baby that you may think there’s something wrong, especially if you’re a first-time mom. But teething is a normal part of tooth development and growth.

If your baby is irritable, has a slight fever, has congestion, and cries excessively for no apparent reason, you should realize that those symptoms could very well be caused by erupting teeth. If there’s no evidence of teething, then look for other cause and check with your pediatrician. Sometimes teething may coincide with an illness, like a cold, and the two problems will serve to magnify  each other.

When the chart or your visual examination indicate that eruption is near, or actually taking place, surround the baby with teething toys. Teething toys are thought to help accelerate eruption, massage the gums, and in general help relieve the discomfort, Babies are instinctively wise in this regard, and if they need something and it’s within their reach they’ll use it. So make sure these gadgets are within your baby’s reach during this period — or she’ll find something else to do the job. There are many kinds of teething toys on the market. They come in all sizes and shapes and can be found in drugstores, toy stores, or baby stores. The toy ought to be small enough to get far enough into the mouth to be effective, but with a large handle so that she can hold it but not swallow it.

If you have any questions about teething, check with baby’s dentist. He may suggest a specific toy, such as the soft plastic kind that has water inside. This can be placed in your freezer comparment and frozen. Cold not only provides the desired numbing effect but also acts to reduce the swelling. Let the baby use it on her own, if she will. But if the coldness bothers her fingers and she refuses, or if she’s just too upset and distracted with pain, you use it for her. Move it lightly around the affected area with a gentle massage action. It will act both as an anesthetic and a massager. If she wants to chew on it, let her. Do this for a little while; then wait ten minutes, and repeat as needed. Don’t keep it on the gum area for more than a minute at a time.

If a tooth has broken through and the area around it is red and swollen, there are teething solutions available at your drug store, from your pediatrician, and from the children’s dentist that are specifically formulated to reduce the physical discomfort of teething. However, I recommend you try these only as a last resort because they may contain chemicals, mostly benzocaine.

Once all the baby teeth have erupted, you and your child will be free from the trauma of teething. The first permanent tooth won’t erupt until about the age of six. This is great news for both of you, so enjoy the break while you can. When the permanent teeth start arriving  you’ll both have to go through it again, although it’s normally less traumatic the second time around. If a teething problem arises with the permanent teeth, use the same procedures you used with the baby teeth.

— Tom McGuire