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Overnight, your darling baby has turned into a terror. She's drooling, crying and refusing to nap. Welcome to the wonderful world of teething. Some babies (and parents) breeze through this period with barely a tear, while others become downright miserable. Teething tries the most doting parent's patience, but take heart -- it doesn't last forever. "Teething is a difficult issue," says Dr. Lee Weinstein, a pediatric dentist from Scottsdale, Ariz. "Everyone does it differently and at different times. Offer comfort and a few time-tested remedies, but keep an eye on your little one. It's easy to miss an earache or illness because you mistake it for teething.
Teething is a twofold process. First, the teeth migrate from deep in the gums to the surface. You won't see any visible signs that this is happening, but baby's likely to drool more and chew on anything she can get her hands on. The teeth must then break through the gum's surface. At this point, baby may experience irritability, low-grade fever and interrupted sleep. The gums look red and inflamed, and you may even notice a small blood blister where a tooth is coming through.
If you feel as if your child is chronically teething, you're not too far off the mark. Most babies get their first teeth between 4 and 7 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, although some kids may not get a tooth until several months later. Usually, the first teeth to appear are the middle top or bottom teeth. From there, children cut, on average, one tooth per month for the next 6 to 12 months, or until all 20 baby teeth appear.
Your little one is irritable and has a runny nose and mild diarrhea. Does she have a bug, or could she be teething? Sometimes it's hard to tell. "There are a very wide range of eruption sequences that happen," says Dr. Weinstein. "Many pediatricians discount runny noses, rashes and mild diarrhea -- all anecdotal, but in fact seem to be true."
When in doubt, it's best to check with your pediatrician, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Coughs and vomiting are never caused by teething, and fever and diarrhea may signal serious illness. Two general guidelines to keep in mind: signs of illness won't worsen for a baby who's simply teething; and while teething may cause crankiness and irritability, it does not cause lethargy or extreme agitation, both of which warrant an immediate call to your doctor.
"There are many remedies for teething, from taking the toothbrush and brushing vigorously over the gum to stimulate eruption to taking a bagel piece and putting it in the microwave, letting it get hard and letting the child gnaw on it to relieve pain," says Dr. Weinstein. Like the American Academy of Pediatrics, he does not recommend teething gels, which can numb the throat and cause choking or seizures.Try frozen teething rings or a frozen bagel instead. Anything cold helps reduce inflammation and numbs the gums, relieving pain.
Sometimes, though, the only thing that really helps is your attention and comfort. Distract your little one with a board book, song or game. Go for a walk or rock baby to sleep. Adds Weinstein, "Everyone swears by their remedies. Whatever works is great. Take a deep breath and it will pass. A tincture of time is the best medicine."