Tales of Teething
In the old days, babies' teething-related crankiness was treated using cocktail hour tacticsteething pain relief has come a long way
At three and a half months, Lucy liked to chew on her hands and drool. Her favorite activity was sucking on her fists for a good part of the day. At least all of Auntie Jane’s bibs came in handy! Sometimes Lucy would begin with a very discreet chewing, which gradually escalated into an all-out kicking and crying frenzy. The next-door neighbor knew somebody who’d had a baby, and confidently diagnosed Lucy’s fits as “teething episodes,” but we looked all over her mouth and couldn’t find any teeth at all. Daddy went to the drugstore and brought back a local anesthetic gel, homeopathic tablets, teething rings, and even pain medication. Lucy tried them all, but in the end she just went back to chewing on her fists.
No wonder. Miss Lucy is experiencing what Dr. Freud termed the oral stage of development, for which acetaminophen is ineffective. Before this point, until about three months, she was engaged in the adaptive stage: learning to take in and cope with new sensations. Now that she has it all figured out, she is ready for the exploratory stage. This is the kickoff of one of humankind’s eternal goals: the relentless search for pleasure. So far, her mouth has been the source of her most pleasurable sensations—namely, food and comfort-so that is where she begins her quest. And when Lucy asks herself, “What should I explore first?” her answer is, “My hands!”
Since the hands are readily available, they’re the ideal territory for Lucy to explore. With age, the salivary glands become increasingly productive, and the result is a copious stream of saliva, or drool. Sometimes all this new oral stimulation can be overwhelming for Lucy, and that’s what makes her so agitated. Parents may misinterpret these signs as symptoms of teething discomfort, when in fact they are just a little bit of “oral staging.” There is no need for medication.
Okay, so that isn’t teething, you say. Then what exactly is this “teething” process everyone talks about? True teething starts around six to eight months of age and may last until all the back teeth are in place (roughly two to three years of age). Teething episodes, which occur especially around nap time or bed time, are not as painful as you imagine. The combination of being overtired, and the mild throbbing Lucy experiences in her gums around the newly erupting teeth makes her extra whiny. For a few days at a time, Lucy will chew harder than usual on her hands and act seriously bent out of shape until she falls asleep.
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