Teething Or Sick: How To Tell In Your Baby


December 04, 2019

Teething can cause your baby to be cranky and uncomfortable. Drooling, swollen or puffy gums, fussiness and crankiness are tell-tale signs for many infants who are teething.

But how best can a parent help their child, and when should they be concerned that their child may be sick instead?

Franciscan Physician Network pediatrician Aubrey Bonhivert, MD, answers common questions about teething in infants and whether teething does cause a fever.

Why Do Babies’ Temperatures Rise When Teething?
Researchers in 2016 challenged that the belief that teething causes fevers and other symptoms of illnesses in infants and young children. Reviewing studies from eight countries, researchers concluded that teething may cause babies to be warmer than normal, but that the rise in temperature wasn’t actually a fever.

“Teething is commonly reported to be associated with a rise in temperature, but not true fevers,” Dr. Bonhivert explained. “Temperatures associated with teething are usually 99 to 100 degrees. A fever is a temperature of 100.4 or higher.”

Does Teething Cause Fevers?
Teething does not cause colds, rashes, diarrhea or fever.

“Fever related to illness will be over 100.4 and often associated with other symptoms (with these other symptoms depending on the type of illness)-such as runny nose, cough, poor feeding, vomiting, diarrhea or rash,” Dr. Bonhivert said. “Depending on the severity of these symptoms, how long they have been going on, and the height of the fever, your baby may need to be seen by a healthcare provider. If you are not sure whether your baby needs to be seen or not, call your pediatrician’s office. Your baby should definitely be seen if any of the following are present: persistent temperatures over 101, refusal to drink, frequent vomiting, wheezing or labored breathing, or rash associated with a fever.”

“If the temperature remains below 100.4 and baby also has other classic symptoms of teething (drooling, irritability, gum irritation), it is fair to assume these symptoms are teething-related. However, if the temperature gets over 100.4, this is considered a fever and should not be attributed to teething alone.”

What Are Common Teething Symptoms?
Symptoms of teething babies often include:

Trouble sleeping
Loss of appetite
Irritated gums
Drooling more than usual
How Can I Soothe My Teething Baby?
“The best way to treat teething discomfort is with chew toys, cold items and massage,” Dr. Bonhivert said.

Parents can put a wet twisted washcloth in the freezer, and then use this to massage baby’s gums or allow baby to chew on it. Other options to soothe a teething baby’s discomfort include:

Solid teething rings – Skip the liquid-filled rings, as there’s a chance that sharp teeth could puncture these and release the liquid, which may contain bacteria.
Chewy toys – Try ones made of silicone or latex instead of plastic, which may contain potentially harmful chemicals.
A clean finger
Older infants may also benefit from:

A frozen banana or berries – These are an option once you’ve introduced solids.
A sippy cup of cool water – This is a good choice once your baby is older than 6 to 9 months.
“Teething necklaces are choking and strangulation hazards, and the FDA warns against them.”

What Medicines Can I Give My Teething Baby?
Gels, teething tablets and other items are often sold to soothe teething infants, but they may not be as helpful as you think.

Teething gels may not be helpful as they are quickly washed off with excessive drooling. This may shorten the effect of the gels.

Additionally, some ingredients are not recommended for infants and toddlers.

“Teething tablets that contain belladonna and numbing gels with benzocaine are not recommended,” Dr. Bonhivert said. “The FDA has issued warnings against both of these ingredients due to side effects.”

If your teething baby is clearly very uncomfortable despite trying other measures, you can give a dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol) according to your pediatrician’s recommendations.