Oh, teeth. What would we do without them? A lifetime of pureed foods and a liquid diet doesn’t seem that appealing, but when faced with a teething baby or toddler it might start to seem almost reasonable. Teething is like an invisible illness that can affect almost every part of a very sensitive baby’s life, while other babies are hardly phased. While we might not be able to see the teeth that are causing all the pain, teething pain is real, normal and will eventually pass. And the pain will all be worthwhile when our little ones can eat big meals along with the rest of the family. In the meantime, teething can be a real pain. (Literally).
What is typical teething behaviour?
Anyone who has suffered though dental work will be familiar with the particular agony that is tooth pain. According to Dr. Sears, sore, swollen gums, inflammation, difficulty eating, irritability, sleep disruption and fever are all normal parts of teething. Adults who have major dental work get to go home with serious painkillers, pain management strategies and the OK to spend time in bed recovering. Babies and toddlers who are teething get homeopathic remedies, tylenol (maybe) and a frozen washcloth. I’m not saying we should heavily medicate teething toddlers, but we should be sympathetic to their serious and ongoing pain.
Teething disrupts a toddler’s sleep, eating and play
What does teething look like? Teething often means disruption in many areas of a toddler’s life. Some toddlers are more sensitive to teething disruptions and others barely bat an eye, but most will have at least a few days of pain, irritability and disrupted sleep before a tooth erupts.
- Eating: Many babies and toddlers get diarrhea or an upset stomach while they are teething. Many also refuse to eat solid foods while teeth are erupting. Keep breastfeeding on demand (even if that demand seems constant!) and remember that mama will need to eat more healthy food to keep up with a toddler’s increased nursing.
- Playing: Irritability due to teething pain can wreak havoc on a toddler’s ability to play alongside other kids, share toys or be open to new experiences. Sensitive toddlers are more likely to be uninterested in playing as they usually would. Follow your toddler’s lead when it comes to playing during a teething episode, and if all she wants to do is cuddle, then just cuddle. Babywearing can be a real lifesaver for teething toddlers and their parents.
- Sleep: Nothing prevents someone from getting a good night’s sleep like being in serious pain, and teething toddlers are no exception. If your toddler is experiencing frequent night waking and you’ve eliminated any other sources of discomfort, then teething is a likely culprit. Homeopathic remedies can help calm serious crying and painkillers like Tylenol will help reduce the pain so that both of you can get more sleep.
- Immune System Health: The experts disagree on whether or not a link exists between teething and illness, such as diarrhea or fever. Dr. Sears believes that teething can cause fever and diarrhea, while other pediatricians discount simultaneous teething and illness as coincidence. Your own intuition can guide you here: I know that my toddler always gets a cold or fever when teething. More accurately, I know she’s been sick while each and every tooth has cut through so far. So when I see her refusing to eat solid foods, waking more at night and suddenly getting sick, I feel pretty confident that she’s cutting a tooth (or several).
What can parents do to help a teething toddler?
According to Alaska Dental Associates, comfort measures are called for when babies and toddlers are teething: extra cuddles, babywearing, nursing, homeopathic remedies such as Camilia, and painkillers for acute pain or fever associated with teething. Other things that might help are cool, crunchy vegetables like celery or carrots, a washcloth dunked in cold water or chilled in the freezer and hard teething rings.
It’s also more important to look after yourself when your toddler is teething. It can be tough to find the time to rest yourself when your toddler is waking four or five times each evening before you even get to bed, but be especially sure to get good meals and take any opportunity to grab a nap if you’re waking often at night.
Teething is tough on most toddlers and their parents. Pain is miserable for anyone and teething is a developmental milestone that all babies and toddlers must go through. Stay calm, and don’t forget the Parent’s Mantra: This Too Shall Pass. No toddler will be teething forever (even though it might feel like it). A toddler’s sleep and eating habits usually go right back to normal once the tooth has cut through, and often improve compared to what they were like before that episode of teething. So, don’t lose hope! It will get better.