Baby teeth are important because they allow an infant to eat a good diet, allow for proper jaw growth, give the face its form and appearance, assist in the formation of proper speech, and most important, act as "space savers" for adult teeth. Tooth decay in babies can lead to pain, infection, malnutrition, poor weight gain, and premature loss of teeth -- which can affect the development of permanent teeth. In addition, oral health problems in an infant's mouth, such as bleeding gums and cavities, increase the chance for these problems in permanent teeth. Good oral health habits -- started at an early age at home -- increase the chance for a healthy mouth during your child's young life and carry on through adulthood.

When to Start Caring for Your Baby's Teeth

It's a good idea to get in the habit of cleaning your baby's gums even before teeth emerge.

To clean your baby's mouth:

  1. Lay your baby in your lap with his or her head close to your chest.
  2. Gently, but firmly, rub a clean and damp piece of gauze or washcloth along both the upper and lower gums.
  3. Clean the gums at least two times a day -- after breakfast and after the last feeding of the day. Even better -- clean your baby's gums after every feeding.

What Is Teething?

Teething refers to the time when baby teeth (also called deciduous teeth or primary teeth) appear. Generally, teething first occurs between 6 months and 24 months of age. While this process is uneventful in some children; for others, it causes quite a bit of discomfort and irritability.

Check out this tooth chart and learn when to expect your baby's teeth to appear.

What Are Symptoms of Teething?

Symptoms include:

  • Increased irritability
  • Placing objects or fingers in the mouth and biting down on them
  • Increased saliva or drooling
  • Loss of appetite or becoming choosy about foods
  • Tender and swollen gums
  • Rash on cheeks or redness in the area of the cheeks near the affected gums
  • Restlessness
  • Ear pulling, which may be a sign of teething or possibly an ear infection (make an appointment to have your child seen by your doctor or pediatrician)

Teething does not result in fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your child experiences these problems, contact your doctor.

What Can I Do to Ease Teething Pain?

  • Massage your child's gums with a clean finger or the back of a small cold spoon
  • Allow your child to bite down on a chilled (but never frozen) teething ring. A frozen teething ring can damage the gums.
  • Try an over-the-counter teething ointment to numb the gums. Ask your dentist or doctor for some product recommendations.
  • Allow your child to suck on a cold, wet cloth

Teething biscuits or cookies and frozen bananas are not recommended. These objects promote tooth decay and may cause your child to choke.

What Should I Do if My Baby Was Born With Teeth?

Some infants are born with one or more teeth (called natal teeth) or may have teeth emerge within the first 30 days of life (called neonatal teeth).

These usually are either extra teeth or are remnants from neonatal development that do not need treatment. If they are, however, actual teeth, it's a good idea to maintain them. Your doctor, however, may recommend removing them if the teeth are loose and pose a danger of being inhaled by your baby. Early teeth may also interfere with feeding or irritate your baby's tongue.

Talk to your doctor to see what treatment is right for your baby.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Dentistry.

Reviewed by Jay H. Rosoff, DDS, on March 1, 2007

Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD, on May 1, 2005

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2005


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