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Q & A: How can I make teething less painful for my child?

Pediatric dentist

Teeth start to grow fairly early after birth until about age 6 months, when they start to erupt through the gum. This is painful, and trying to make your child more comfortable around this time makes sense as long as it doesn't endanger him. Massaging a baby's gums and giving him something cold to chew on are the best things. I would stay away from giving a child anything he could choke on, though. Also, don't use commercial products with benzocaine, a fast-acting anesthetic that may trigger reactions or allergies.

For very fussy babies, I recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) in the evening before sleep, but that shouldn't be used routinely. If the baby's temperature is over 101 degrees and lasts for more than a few days, talk to a pediatrician to make sure something else, such as an infection, isn't the culprit. Look closely at the tooth when it erupts from the gum — if it has unusual spots, get the child to the dentist to prevent tooth decay.
-Robert Frank, DMD, senior associate in pediatric dentistry, Children's Hospital, Boston


Chamomile tea is one of the top things I recommend because it is a calming herb that will soothe the baby's nerves. Freeze it into popsicles or ice chips and have the baby suck on them. You can also dip a cloth into the tea, freeze the cloth, and then give it to babies to chew on without any risk of choking. Popsicles and ice cubes are appropriate for older children who have molars coming in.

You can also make a teething tea to give directly to your baby, using comforting herbs that help ease irritability and pain. Steep 1/2 ounce of each herb — chamomile, dried lemon balm, dried catnip, and lavender — in hot water for 15 minutes. Cool until lukewarm, and give it to your baby in a bottle. Or make a tea by boiling a 5-inch piece of burdock root in a quart of water. Then steep 1 ounce dried chickweed in the water, cool, and rub it right on the gums to help reduce gum inflammation.
-Kimberly Gallagher, Med, herbalist, Carnation, Washington

Teething expert

When a baby first starts to teethe, you may notice certain behavior and signs. A lot of times babies will begin to rub their gums or chew on their hands, and they'll drool as their glands produce extra saliva to help the process of the tooth coming through the gum. Other symptoms we don't typically associate directly with teething may include diarrhea, diaper rash, fever, and sleeplessness.

Calcium phosphate — a homeopathic remedy that supports cell structure and strong bones and teeth — eases crankiness, gas, and diarrhea. Calcium carbonate is good for calming a baby that is clammy or sweaty and late to get his teeth. Both are available in 30x homeopathic tablets. Just dissolve one tablet in a few drops of water, and use your fingers to rub the mixture on your baby's gums two to three times a day. If you don't see any results after 24 hours, place a cold apple in a soft mesh bag. Chewing on that helps numb gums and can work wonders to soothe a cranky baby.
-Kathy Arnos, author of The Complete Teething Guide (Spirit Dance, 2003), Van Nuys, California

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