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The Truth About Teething

Can teething cause a fever? What alleviates a baby's pain? The answers may depend on whom you ask. An Australian study found discrepancies among health care providers in their beliefs, suggesting that symptoms of other conditions may get misdiagnosed as teething.

Most babies begin cutting teeth between 4 and 7 months and will have a full set of chompers by 2 to 3 years of age. The most common signs your baby is teething include drooling, a desire to chew on things, possible loss of appetite and crankiness caused by the pain of teeth pushing up through the gums. Additional symptoms—such as fever and diarrhea—have been attributed to teething, but, as the Australian study showed, experts often disagree on the subject. So talk to your doctor to confirm that your baby's symptoms aren't a sign of another condition. Here's where opinions differ:

Can side effects mimic a cold?

Some experts believe teething can cause a slight runny nose and a minimal cough, but others say these symptoms are more likely due to the common cold. All agree that serious coughing and congestion signal a bona fide illness—and are not the result of teething.

Is a fever typical?

There's disagreement over whether a low-grade fever may be caused by teething, but a fever over 101°F warrants a call to the pediatrician. "Don't assume that a fever is caused by teething, because there could be other things going on," says Kevin Hale, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

What about diarrhea?

Some doctors say that the excess saliva from teething may lead to a mild case of loose stools. At this age, however, changes in a child's diet due to the introduction of solid foods may also be the culprit. Always consult your pediatrician if the diarrhea is green, blood-tinged or lasts longer than two days.

Should I try a teething gel?

Many doctors recommend them, while others dismiss the very temporary relief they may provide. There's no harm in trying a teething gel as long as you apply it sparingly, advises Hale. Before using any products, it's important to confirm with a doctor that your child is, in fact, teething and not cranky for some other reason.

Can frozen teething rings help?

Although cold teething toys seem to ease discomfort, some experts caution that frozen ones may be too hard, further aggravating sore gums. As an alternative, try a teether that's been chilled in the refrigerator. Gently massaging a child's gums or letting her chew on a cold, wet cloth or teething cracker can help too. Talk to your doctor about your baby's level of discomfort; in some cases, a dose of infant pain reliever may be recommended.