About baby teeth
Baby teeth (also called milk teeth) start developing in the womb, and newborns have a full set of 20 baby teeth hidden under their gums.
Babies get teeth at different times. For most, teeth start to appear between six to 10 months. Some babies are born with teeth (called premature teeth), and others don’t get them until much later.
Baby teeth can come through in any order, but most often the central bottom teeth are first to break through. All 20 baby teeth usually appear before your child is three.
Every baby reacts differently to teething. Some babies’ teeth pop through the gums without any problems, but for others teething can be painful and upsetting.
Your teething baby may:
- drool more
- develop a dribble rash on their cheeks or chin
- cry or seem grumpy
- have a slight fever
- have red cheeks
- not eat or sleep well
- want to suck on or bite things
- pull the ear on the same side the tooth’s coming through
- seem to be filling their nappy more than usual, or their poo may be different (which may cause nappy rash).
Teething doesn’t make babies sick. If your baby isn’t well, it’s always best to take them to the doctor, especially if they have a fever or diarrhea, or you’re worried about any other symptoms.
How to help your teething baby
It can be really upsetting to see your baby in distress. Here are some things you can do to help:
- gently rub their gums with a clean finger or the back of a cold spoon
- wrap ice cubes in a clean face cloth and place it on your baby's cheek
- give your baby something to chew on, like:
- a clean teething ring (especially one you can cool in the fridge)
- other cold things that they can suck on, like chilled fruit wrapped in a muslin cloth so they can’t chew bits off and choke on them
- try a teething gel from the chemist (carefully follow the instructions on how to use it).
If your baby still seems unhappy or uncomfortable, it’s time to see your GP or child and family health nurse. Teething might not be the problem.
Teething and breastfeeding
New teeth are super sharp, and it can really hurt if baby bites you while you’re breastfeeding. Pulling them off the breast while they’re biting can be even more painful.
If your baby’s a biter, try taking them gently off the breast when they bite (by breaking their suction with your finger) have a short break, and then try again. Doing this every time they bite will teach them that when they do it, breastfeeding stops.
Premature teeth and white spots in your baby’s mouth
About one in 1,000 babies are born with a tooth.
Premature teeth are either already in the mouth at birth (natal teeth), or they break through within 30 days of birth (neonatal teeth). There’s no reason to remove these early teeth unless they’re very wiggly, or they’re seriously interfering with feeding. If they’re sharp, they can sometimes hurt the underside of the baby’s tongue. Your dentist can recommend antibacterial swabs for your baby.
These are often mistaken for early teeth. They look like white circles on the gum ridges where teeth will appear, and they’re found in 75% of newborns. You don’t need to do anything about them – they’ll disappear in the first three months.
These small, white, pearl-like spots appear along the gums or on the roof of the mouth, and they’re harmless, occurring in 60-85% of babies. They normally disappear within a few weeks.
Looking after baby’s gums and teeth
You can start caring for, and cleaning your baby’s gums, well before the first tooth appears. Just wrap a clean, damp facecloth or gauze around your finger, and gently wipe their gums a couple of times a day. This is a good idea because it gets them used to letting you touch their teeth and gums.
As soon as teeth pop through, you can clean them twice a day (in the morning and before bed). You can use a small soft toothbrush with a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste to gently brush your child’s teeth. Fluoride makes teeth stronger and reduces tooth decay (holes).
These first teeth will help your baby to eat and speak well. Healthy baby teeth usually mean healthy adult teeth too, so it’s important that you look after your baby’s first teeth.