Teething, or the process and symptoms of tooth emergence, is fraught with myths and misconceptions. Drooling, for example, can be associated with teething, but also occurs separately and earlier, as a consequence of the development of the salivary glands. That wet, drooly four month old isn't necessarily going to show a new tooth the following week, despite what the lady in the supermarket claims. Teething can cause mild irritability and bouts of crying, a desire to chomp down hard on objects, and sometimes a low grade fever (<100 F) fever. The gums often swell and become tender at the site of the upcoming tooth. What teething doesn't cause, however, is a very sick or hot baby. Any fever above 100 F needs to be evaluated as a possible illness, regardless of the state of the teeth.
What can be done to relieve the discomfort of teething? Often, simply rubbing or gently massaging sore gums with a clean finger brings significant relief. Topical pain relievers meant to be rubbed onto the gums offer only very temporary help, since much of the time they are washed out within minutes. Oral pain relievers like Tylenol do help, but put four to six hours of medicine in a baby's body for what is usually only sporadic discomfort, and overdosing is always a concern. Teething rings can help, especially firm rubber ones. Frozen rings have been known to break, and need to be inspected for tears or leakage. Foods like frozen bagels can also be tried, as long as the baby is watched carefully. Larger chunks of food that break off become a choking hazard. The good news is, by no means do all babies feel discomfort as their teeth present, and sometimes parents first know of a tooth by seeing it!