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From the time your child's first tooth emerges to how painful it is, teething is a different experience for every child. Here's how to spot the signs that your baby is teething, so you can figure out the best way to treat the discomfort.
- Drooling (which can cause a facial rash)
- Swollen, sensitive gums
- A tooth visible below the gum
- Irritability or fussiness
- Trouble sleeping
- Trying to bite, chew, and suck on everything
- Refusing to eat
- Rubbing face and ears
Symptoms can last for just a few days, right around the time a new tooth is emerging, or for as long as several months if a lot of teeth come through all at once. For a few lucky babies (and parents), teething doesn't cause any noticeable signs at all. What's tricky is that there's no strict list of teething symptoms.
"No more than a third of babies have any one symptom," says pediatrician Deb Lonzer, chairperson of the department of community pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital. "So, one-third of the kids might drool, another third might be irritable, and another third might have trouble sleeping."
If you notice several symptoms together, it's very likely that your child is teething – but there's always the chance that it's something else.
Symptoms that are not from teething
If your baby has diarrhea, a fever, or a runny nose, don't dismiss it as a sign of teething, especially if the symptoms last longer than 24 hours.
Even though many parents swear these symptoms seem directly related to their child's teething, there's no scientific proof that they're linked. Experts, including those at the American Academy of Pediatrics, say fever and diarrhea are not usual teething symptoms.
One of many possible explanations for these symptoms is that because teething babies frequently put things in their mouth to soothe their gums, they get sick from coming into contact with viruses and other germs.
Call your child's healthcare provider if your child has a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees F along with symptoms such as lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea.
When to worry about a late teether
The first pearly white typically peeks through when a baby is between 6 and 10 months old, but it's also perfectly normal for it to show up quite a bit later.
If your child's teeth are slow to appear but her bone growth, skin, and hair are normal, it's likely there's nothing wrong. But if there's still no tooth in sight when your baby reaches 18 months old, mention it to her doctor – she may refer you to a pediatric dentist.
Late teething doesn't signal a problem with a child's overall development. And there's actually a potential upside to taking a little longer, according to pediatrician Paul Horowitz, founder of Discovery Pediatrics in Valencia, California. He says that the later these teeth come in, the less time they have to develop decay before they fall out and make way for a child's permanent teeth.
Slideshow: Which tooth will come in next?
More answers to your teething questions in our Baby Teething group
What to expect when your child loses his first tooth