Why teething is so troubling

Some babies teethe without a squeak, while others keep the whole house awake at night. Here's why.

27 May 2010
by Phillippa Hudson

Why do babies teethe?

All babies are born with their primary or ‘milk’ teeth already developing in their jaws. As part of the growth cycle, these teeth have to push their way through the gums into the mouth.

When do babies teethe?

About 1 in 2 000 babies are born with a tooth already emerged. On the other hand, some children reach their first birthday without a single tooth. The average is six to eight months, and most have their full set of 20 primary teeth by age three.

Why is it so unpleasant?

Clicks pharmacist Len Bailey explains that a few days' prior to the tooth erupting, the gum becomes inflamed and tender. Sometimes this inflammation extends into the back of the throat, and can even impact the Eustachian tube (the tube connecting the middle ear to the upper pharynx) resulting in earache. These symptoms can cause the child to become irritable and fretful, with crying bouts, sleeplessness or loss of appetite.

Itchy gums lead children to gnaw on whatever they can, sometimes damaging the gums and causing a build-up of saliva. The enzymes in this saliva can cause skin rashes around the mouth, and can irritate the stomach lining, resulting in mild diarrhoea and nappy rash. The irritation in the mouth may also result in mild infection, causing a slight fever.

How can you soothe your child’s discomfort?

Bailey says there is no single magic remedy for teething. "There are a number of different symptoms, and not all infants will present all of these – they all experience teething differently. Treating teething requires patience and understanding by parents," he explains.

Vivian Slabbert, a Clicks Clinic sister agrees that treatment must be focused on the specific symptoms the child is presenting. She recommends powders for those with nappy rash. "Teething gels can help soothe the gums," she says.

Teething tips:

  • Give your child something firm to chew on, like a stick of biltong or a rusk.
  • Teething rings kept in the fridge (not the freezer!) can offer a soothing cool object to gnaw on.
  • Try homeopathic remedies – some preparations contain belladonna to help reduce the swelling or pain, and chamomile to soothe the irritability.
  • Natural alternatives – clove oil can be rubbed on the gums to warm and numb them. Natural liquorice sticks (not the sweet!) are good to chew on.
  • Tissue salts – the teething preparation can be sprinkled onto the tongue, to help with pain and emotional symptoms.
  • Iced lollies can soothe the pain and boost the calories they might be losing through lack of appetite – but be sure to use only diluted juice.
  • Simply rubbing the gums can help.


  • Over-medicating
  • Medication containing high amounts of alcohol or aspirin
  • Teething necklaces – rather give them an amber teething bracelet because necklaces can be a throttling risk.

Caring for baby teeth

  • Brush regularly, first with a silicone finger brush or soft cloth, and later with a toothbrush.
  • Once your child is old enough to spit out, you can introduce toothpaste.
  • Avoid very sweet food and drink
  • Start taking your child to the dentist regularly from as early as 18 months to encourage good dental habits.

Shop now at Clicks.co.za for teething essentials

Our experts have curated an online selection of products to help your little one. If you prefer the convenience of online shopping, purchase your teething must-haves here. Don't miss out on our other mother and baby health and well-being essentials either.

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