In the old days, rubbing Johnny Walker on the gums was the treatment of choice; it made everybody happy, and teething babies slept like angels. Nowadays, babies can skip the cocktail hour because pain medication has substantially improved the outcome of teething episodes. It's very effective but, like all medications, should be used sparingly. Don't pump Lucy up with acetaminophen at the first onset of crankiness. Only use meds. when the pain seems truly overwhelming, and then use the highest recommended dosage, which will be safe and more efficient. Other pain-relieving tactics:
- A teething ring, a frozen bagel, carrots, or any other finger food will provide temporary relief as well, but you may become tired of picking them up after Lucy has thrown them on the floor for the umpteenth time.
- Topical anesthetics such as Oragel, a less concentrated form of what your dentist uses, decrease the pain, but they numb the mouth for half an hour or more. For a baby, this translates into a lot of drooling, which is a combined effect of the loss of feeling and a decrease in the swallowing reflex.
- Homeopathic tablets, which contain a small amount of sugar and an infinitesimal dilution of belladonna, an organic anesthetic, have their diehard fans, including my wife, who gave large quantities to all three of our daughters. It's hard to know whether the temporary relief is merely due to the sweet taste of the tablets or the effect of the belladonna. I can't speak against them, but I don't recommend them either.
- The "laissez-faire" approach may be your best option at times, since most so-called teething moments will resolve after a few minutes of rocking Lucy to sleep. I've seen many parents who say their baby never experienced teething pain. My suspicion is that they simply attributed whining caused by teething to general whining.
Common Myths About Teething
Myth #1: Teething Causes Fever
There is no physiological basis for this argument. When the dentist works on your gums, you don't go home with a fever, do you? Conversely, however, a fever will magnify the throbbing pain of teething. Benign febrile illnesses are rather common at this age and may easily coincide with teething.
Myth #2: Teething Occurs Mostly at Night
Well, nighttime is also when kids are most likely to be overtired and more sensitive to their throbbing gums. There is one caveat you should be aware of when the whole teething business starts: if you carry Lucy on your shoulder for several hours, put her in your bed, or otherwise pamper her when she's teething, Miss. Lucy will still want that nightly shoulder ride or a spot in the cozy "Mommy-Daddy" bed even after the episodes have subsided. Many parents tell me, "My kid was a great sleeper until eight months of age, when he started teething. Now he wakes up four times a night!" As natural as it is to want to reduce your child's discomfort, I advise you to resume the regular routine as soon as things seem settled, even if it involves a little bit of night fussing.
Myth #3: I See the Teeth Coming Through—It Must Be So Painful!
Actually, once you can see the teeth, chances are that much of the discomfort has passed, since it's the pressure of the teeth against the inside of the gums that causes the pain.
Teething pains are a baby's first growing pains. They come and they go, but in the end, they'll make your little one stronger.
Excerpted from The New Basics by Michel Cohen, M.D. All rights reserved, HarperCollins Publishers