Teething: Top Symptoms and Tips for Parents

Teething can be a tough time for some. Fiery, inflamed gums and fussy nights are not fun. Help your little one with these tips for spotting and soothing teething discomfort.

Starting around 4 months your baby may begin sprouting teeth. Keep reading to learn the most common signs of a teething baby. If you can spot these top teething symptoms you can quickly soothe their discomfort.

Top teething symptoms

  • Drooling
  • Gagging or Reflux
  • Biting
  • Irritability
  • Crying after feedings or naps
  • Refusing to eat
  • Ear pulling
  • Cheek rubbing

This is just a short list of top symptoms for teethers. Your baby may have no symptoms and a mouthful of teeth in no time. Other babies may suffer regular discomfort, fussiness or pain for months. Knowing this list of symptoms can help make sense of your baby’s irregular behaviours. Managing teething discomfort doesn't require a degree in orthodontia. Cranky babies and sore gums can be remedied with 6 smart tips.

Tips for soothing teething discomfort

  • Chewing
  • Counter pressure
  • Cold drinks
  • Cold food
  • Pain relief
  • Attention and Comfort

When will my baby start teething?

Symptoms of teething can appear two to three months before any tiny teeth are visible. Most babies begin teething around the six month mark. Some eager babies can begin teething as early as three months.

There is a generous range of time for teeth development. It is not uncommon for babies to not get their first tooth until after the first year. If you know the signs to look out for you can begin to monitor your baby’s teething journey.

Teeth typically grow in beginning with the two bottom front teeth. A month or so later the top two front teeth typically appear. You can keep track of your baby’s teeth development with an eruption chart. While your baby’s teeth will grow in at their own pace, the pattern of growth can be more predictable.

Top teething symptoms

Understanding teething signs can help you quickly address your baby’s discomfort. These symptoms might look like other behaviors. If you can keep an eye out for two or more symptoms you may be able to spot a teether.

  1. Drooling: Drooling may be the verb most associated with babies. Once drooling becomes excessive you may be entering the teething stage. Teething encourages drooling and is one of the earlier signs of teething. Drool needs to be removed and dried off to keep your baby clean and comfortable. Teething is uncomfortable on it’s own, if drool is not addressed it can cause a rash. Chaffing around the mouth, chin and neck area can be prevented if skin is kept clean and dry.

  2. Spitting up: With an excess of drool your baby may begin coughing or spitting up. If you know the signs of normal spit up and reflux, there is no need for worry. Spitting up is not only normal for babies, but can be a reaction to dealing with extra drool when teething.

  3. Teething rash: Chaffing around the mouth, chin and neck area can be prevented if skin is kept clean and dry. A strategically placed bib and gentle moisture barrier like Vaseline or Lanisoh can keep drool at bay. Baby skin is sensitive and the bacteria in the drool can be harsh. Rashes can be hard to distinguish. Always investigate your baby’s rash to rule out hives or food allergy.
  4. Biting: Growing teeth put pressure on the gums. As they grow out babies will likely feel discomfort. The best remedy for this pressure is counter pressure. Counter pressure can be achieved with chewing or biting. If baby is biting more than normal when breastfeeding or bottle feeding they may be teething! You can explore gumming with your baby with safe objects if you suspect they are teething.
  5. Crying: Unfortunately, new teeth may come with a few tears. Nights up with unexplained crying might be your first sign of a teething baby. The first front teeth might be the most painful as your baby is not used to the sensation. For some babies tender gums become inflamed and gumming may not be enough. If you believe your baby is in a great deal of pain soothing discomfort should be your top priority.
  6. Irritability: Fussiness can be expected if your baby is missing sleep due to sore gums. Fussiness and irritability can be an early sign of teething. Adjusting to the discomfort of growing teeth may happen naturally. However, parents can intervene to help their irritable little one. Babies do not like the strange pressure on their gums, and this may cause frustration. If you can provide a soothing treatment for discomfort irritability can lessen. Irritability may last hours or for weeks at a time.
  7. Refusing to eat: Some babies may find comfort in chewing and counter pressure. Others may find chewing more painful. If biting worsens inflammation in sore gums your baby may avoid feedings. This fussiness about feedings can worsen when already irritable babies become hungry. If you notice your baby refusing to eat they may be teething and in need of more soothing foods.
  8. Ear tugging and cheek rubbing: Creative babies may massage their faces and ears to relieve pain in their gums. Tugging on the ears or rubbing cheeks can alleviate pain by applying pressure away from the gums. Nearly ⅓ of babies will itch or scratch themselves when teething. This movement may increase with the emergence of molars in the back of the mouth. Monitor your baby to assure they do not hurt or scratch themselves when pulling or rubbing. Like biting, ear pulling is a creative fix babies use for managing pain. Monitor your baby to assure they do not hurt or scratch themselves when pulling or rubbing. Like biting, ear pulling is a creative fix babies use for managing pain.

These symptoms will vary baby to baby. If you notice any combination of these behaviors beginning around 3 months your baby may be teething. However, only about 70% of babies may observe teething symptoms. The other 30% may grow teeth with no discomfort, or their symptoms may be wrongly attributed to other illnesses.

As you have read, some of these symptoms are methods of pain management. If your baby has a solid regime of biting and ear pulling they may be less irritable. Other babies may do more crying and drooling with a suspicious rash. Whichever baby you have there are tips to soothe their discomfort. Growing a set of teeth is a tremendous milestone. Parents make the experience manageable and less distributive.

Top tips for soothing teething discomfort

Soothing remedies don’t have to be elaborate or confusing. These tried and true tips are sure to reduce discomfort and distress :

  1. Counter Pressure

Counter pressure works as a short term relief for teething pain. The easiest way is to rub a clean finger across your baby's gums. This will alleviate the pressure of new teeth pressing out. You can also apply counter pressure with a clean wash rag or teething toy. Some moms apply counter pressure with the nipple of their feeding bottle as a gentler introduction. If you know the pattern of teeth eruption you can focus on where you think the pain may be.

2. Gumming

Gumming, chewing or biting are all the same word for using the jaw to apply counter pressure. You may notice your baby gumming objects around them to relieve discomfort. Instead provide them with a teething ring, clean washcloth or toy designed for this purpose. There are an array of toys that are safe for teething babies to bite into. Be on the lookout for sharp edges on broken toys or toys that may contain mold. Cold toys add an extra soothing sensation when gums are sore and inflamed. You can keep a small container of teething toys in your fridge for fussy moments.

3. Cold food

Cold food is a great option for babies refusing to eat. If your baby is already eating solids while teething they may not be interested in their usual meals. Refrigerated soft foods like yogurt or applesauce can be more soothing than at room temperature. Teething occurs in the midst of many other changes for your baby. If you are making the transition to solid foods you may find more success with refrigerated purees.

4. Cold drinks

Cold water, breast milk, or formula can also provide relief for sore gums. Cold water can be given to babies older than 6 months in a bottle. Alternatively, you can serve a breast milk popsicle for icy relief. This is a good option for babies who are not old enough for solids or water. Be sure to monitor your baby when drinking cold water or serving popsicles to avoid gagging or choking.

5. Pain relief

If cold and pressure aren’t enough for fiery swollen gums you can try over the counter acetaminophen made for babies. Tylenol, Advil or Motrin may be the only relief for fussy babies when the pain is too much. Always consult your family doctor before giving your baby any medications.

6. Attention and comfort

Teething babies may be fussy and irritable throughout the eruption of their teeth. In this case there is only so much cold and pressure you can apply to their gums. Comfort and attention in the form of coos and cuddles can take their mind from the chaos in their mouth. Being patient and attentive can allow you to provide comfort when your little one needs it most.

What else can I do?

Your baby’s symptoms for teething may be mild, but these can soothe discomfort at any level. If you believe your baby’s teething symptoms are very severe you may be tempted to try other methods of soothing.

Rubbing alcohol is warned against by the FDA for application to the gums. Other oral products containing benzocaine, a local anesthetic are dangerous as well. There is risk in giving your baby medication to treat teething pain. Whether it be herbal, homeopathic, or over the counter parents are best to avoid questionable remedies. The long term effects of these products may do more harm than it is worth.

Once the first tooth arrives parents can begin to focus on good oral hygiene. This includes brushing with a soft toothbrush designed for babies. Parents should also avoid leaving bottles with baby as they fall asleep. The sugars in breast milk or formula can breed cavities if left sitting for hours.

You can sharpen your teething knowledge with this quick video: Myth & Facts About Teething.

When should I call my doctor?

If you notice bleeding in or under gums there is no cause for alarm. Bleeding under gums may appear as a blue lump under the surface of the gums. Using a cold damp washcloth rub the area gently to disperse blood and relieve swelling.

You may also notice diarrhea and low fever alongside many teething symptoms. This is not cause for alarm and can be a symptom of inflammation in the gums. Your baby’s body is very small, and distress in the mouth can raise their body’s temperature leading to symptoms that may look like fever. If your baby has other symptoms of illness and fever persisting more than 3 days contact your doctor.

The same goes for symptoms that resemble food allergy. A rash from excessive drooling, loose stool from swallowing drool and refusal to eat may seem like food allergy or intolerance. This can become especially confusing as fussiness and irritability with teething can come and go. If you believe your baby is having an allergic reaction look for these signs.

Introduce Allergens Safely and Easily with Ready. Set. Food!

All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.