The first outward signs your infant’s baby teeth have begun their push upward should present around three to six months of age, before you’ll see any evidence with a naked eye. In fact, your baby will be much more acutely aware of what’s happening than you will be.
Expect several weeks of drooling, increased saliva, and your baby seeming unable to keep their fingers out of their mouth before you see the first tooth emerge between six and 12 months of age. The bottom incisors almost always erupt first. The top incisors will join shortly after and by just about two years old, you’ll see a full set of baby teeth.
(As an aside, monitor the increased drooling carefully. The extra saliva often creates irritated rashes around the chin and mouth. A little white petroleum jelly will create a buffer between the tender skin and accumulating saliva, but do not rub the saliva off the chin – that may only increase irritation. Instead, just pat-dry gently to minimize friction.)
Nature plays one immensely cruel joke on infants with little reasonable explanation: teething discomfort often worsens during the evening. Though dentists and pediatricians have never cemented one definitive explanation, many believe the pain intensifies as your baby gets tired and isn’t so distracted by playing and everything else going on around them. Teething often causes not only overall crankiness that’s easy to mistake for simply being generally fussy, but a very mild fever. If the fever rises above 101 and is accompanied by decreased eating, sleeping more often, vomiting, rashes and coughs that could all seem like a more serious infection, it’s time to call a pediatrician.
Of course, herein lies the most frustrating trial of teething: how does a parent sooth the pain of a process that just has to naturally come and go?
Surprisingly few clinical studies have focused on effective cures for teething pain, short of nonmedicinal habits like frozen teeth rings, chewing cool washcloths and other items that seem to ease pain consistently. Acetaminophen is a go-to pain reliever if baby needs a bit more therapy, but make sure and discuss any ongoing pain with a doctor (pediatrician, pediatric dentist, general dentist or family doctor).
That being said, there are a few practices to never attempt. Whatever you’ve heard, clove oil is right out, given its tendency to burn a baby’s tender skin and gums. Most importantly, though, never, EVER topically apply or allow your baby to ingest alcohol. Even a trace amount at that young age can be dangerously toxic.
Your infant would likely disagree passionately, but teething is a cause for some excitement. Baby teeth that come in straight and true set the spacing for the permanent teeth that will follow and last the rest of your child’s life. The pain and fussiness can be trying, without question. However, this is also a great time to get your baby in for a checkup to insure that improperly erupting teeth aren’t actually causing even more pain than your infant should be experiencing.