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Teething Troubles

How much should parents expect teething to bother their infant? Actually babies don't "cut teeth," nor do teeth "erupt." Teeth slowly slide and twist their way through gum tissue. But sharp teeth pushing through sensitive gums do hurt, and babies protest. Here are the nuisances to expect and suggestions to comfort the budding teether.

Drooling. During teething time expect the saliva faucet to be on. In addition, listen for the young announcer's voice to sputter. Many of the following aggravations stem from this excessive drool.

Drool rash. Sensitive skin and excessive saliva don't sit well together, especially when the skin is rubbing against a drool-soaked bed sheet. Expect a red, raised, irritating rash around lips and chin. Place a drool-absorbing cotton diaper under baby's chin or a towel under the sheet while baby sleeps. Gently wipe excess drool off the skin with lukewarm water and pat (don't rub) dry. Lubricate with a mild emollient such as Nature's Second Skin or cold-pressed coconut, almond, or safflower oil.

Drool cough. Besides drooling out the mouth, the excess saliva escapes through the back door, dripping down baby's throat, causing gagging and an irritating cough.

Drool diarrhea. Not only does the face react to excess saliva, but so does the bottom. Expect loose stools and a mild diaper rash during peak teething time. This temporary nuisance self-clears as each teething burst subsides.

Fever and irritability. The inflammation caused by hard teeth pushing through soft tissue may produce a low fever (101°F/38.3°C) and the disposition of someone who hurts. Give baby the appropriate dosage of acetaminophen as needed.

Biting. The budding teether longs for something or some person to gnaw on. Teeth marks on crib rails and clicking gums on silver spoons are telltale signs of sore gums needing relief. Expect these hard gums to clench your knuckles, arm, finger, and sometimes the breast that feeds baby. Offer something cool and hard. Gum-soothing favorites are a cool spoon, popsicle, frozen bagel, teething ring, and, a favorite Sears family teether, a chicken leg bone stripped of the tiny bone slivers. Try cold teething biscuits for another melt-in-the-mouth teether. We are hesitant to recommend commercial numbing substances because it is difficult to learn their exact contents and find research that validates their safety.

Night waking. Growing teeth don't rest at night; neither do teething babies and their parents. A previously steady sleeper may frequently awaken during peak teething times and may have difficulty resettling into the preteething sleep schedule. Offer a dose of acetaminophen before bedtime, or, if baby is in severe pain, a one-time double dose. Repeat the dose four hours later if needed.

Refusing to feed. This is the most variable of all teething concerns. Some teethers never miss a meal, some avid breastfeeders accelerate their nursing for comfort, but a few may pass up even their most trusted human pacifier. Offer cool, mushy foods - for example, applesauce and frozen fruit-juice slush. Put these on a cool spoon to make a real hit.