While a very normal part of every child’s development, teething can be a difficult time for babies and parents.
As baby teeth push their way toward the surface of the gums, it can be painful, causing a myriad of symptoms. The first teeth typically make an appearance around 6 months and most children have a full set of baby teeth by the time they’re 3.
Learn more here about the stages of teething and what to expect during each stage.
The 5 Stages of Teething
By the time your toddler is finished with the teething process, they will have twenty baby teeth, also known as primary teeth. Although teething can be a difficult phase in your baby’s development, knowing what’s happening, what to expect, and how to help will go a long way in making things easier.
Stage 1: (0-6 months)
Don’t let that gummy smile fool you, babies are born with their full set of twenty teeth beneath the surface of their gums. These are commonly referred to as “milk teeth” because, during this stage, babies only drink milk.
Even though that first tooth won’t break through for several months, good oral hygiene is important from the moment babies are born. Clean and healthy gums lead to clean and healthy teeth. Use a clean gauze pad or a damp washcloth and wipe your baby’s gums after each feeding.
Healthy baby teeth aid in good nutrition, and proper speech development, and make way for strong adult teeth.
Stage 2: (6 months)
The first teeth are typically the lower central incisors followed by the upper central incisors. The incisors are the upper and lower front teeth. You will likely feel the bumpy edges of the teeth along the gumline.
Once the central incisors have popped through, the teeth on either side will make their debut. These are also known as the lower lateral incisors and upper lateral incisors. The time it takes for each tooth to come in varies between 1-8 days. Incisors tend to erupt rather quickly based on their size.
6 months is the average age that babies will begin cutting teeth, but the central incisor stage can begin anytime between four months to a year. Symptoms of teething will typically begin before the eruption of a tooth and once it breaks through the gum, the pain will subside.
Once your baby has their first tooth, it’s important to switch from wiping their gums to a toothbrush. The bristles perform the important task of keeping teeth clean.
Stage 3: (10-14 months)
The next teeth to appear are primary molars. These first molars are located in the lower and upper jaws, toward the back of the mouth.
Since molars are flatter and wider than the incisors, it can be more painful and take longer for each tooth to erupt. Thus, it can take longer for those lower first molars and upper first molars to make their slow crawl through the gums.
In keeping with your baby’s good oral hygiene, it’s a good idea to schedule your baby’s first dentist appointment by their first birthday or 6 months after their first tooth comes in.
Stage 4: (16-22 months)
During this stage, the canine teeth erupt. The canines are the pointy teeth between the incisors and primary molars. Now that your baby has a mouth full of teeth, it’s even more important to prevent tooth decay. Be sure that you’re using a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste twice a day.
The lower canines will typically come first, followed by the upper canines. Because of their shape and size, cutting these sharp teeth is particularly painful for most babies, and can take some time for each tooth to fully emerge.
Stage 5: (25-33 months)
The final stage of teething is often the most painful. You might be noticing a trend by now. Each phase of teething tends to be more painful and takes longer than the one before it. While this can be frustrating, a consolation is that your baby is getting better at managing the discomfort. And as they get to this stage, they can often talk to you about what’s bothering them… which is easier for both of you!
Stage five is when the big guys show up. These large, secondary molars are the biggest teeth and will take a while to make their way through the gums. Most parents can expect the lower second molars to erupt first, followed by the upper second molars.
Once the top and bottom molars are fully formed, then your little one has a full set of twenty teeth and teething is officially over.
Common Signs of Teething
Throughout the teething process, there are many signs and symptoms to tell you when your baby is teething, including:
- Excessive drooling
- Increased chewing, biting, or sucking (aka, putting everything in their mouths!)
- Redness, irritation, or a rash due to extra saliva on your baby’s chin or cheeks
- Red, swollen, or bulging gums
- Changes in appetite
- Teething blister or eruption cyst (buildup of fluid on the gums that usually goes away without treatment)
The excessive drooling can irritate the eustachian tubes which can then bother the inner ear. Some babies who have these symptoms may pull or tug on their ears, which is a symptom of an ear infection. Teething doesn’t cause ear infections, but sometimes the symptoms can overlap. If your baby has a fever or you suspect an ear infection, it’s important to contact your pediatrician.
Fever, rashes that aren’t from drooling, and diarrhea are not symptoms of teething. If your baby is experiencing any of these, it’s also a good idea to reach out to your physician.
How Long It Typically Takes for Each Tooth to Break Through the Gums
It’s difficult to say how long each tooth takes to erupt, but most experts agree that you can expect anywhere from a couple of days to eight. Since the incisors are smaller and more narrow, they will take less time to emerge. The canines and both sets of molars will likely take longer.
How to Help Soothe Your Child’s Teething Pain
Although there’s no way to avoid teething and the discomfort that comes along with it, there are some things parents can do to help alleviate the pain and make the experience a little easier.
Since each stage is a little different, we’ve identified some remedies that can help with each. There is plenty of overlap and many of these recommendations can be used throughout the entire teething process.
Since during stage one there is no pain or discomfort associated with teething, we’ll begin our list at stage two…
During the stage when your baby’s very first teeth are starting to come in, it can be helpful to start by massaging your baby’s gums. Using a clean finger, gently rub the swollen gums. The pressure can provide some relief.
Some parents find that a cold or frozen washcloth can provide relief for your baby’s tender gums. Bibs can be helpful with absorbing excess drool.
This is a good time to introduce age-appropriate toys and even wearable necklaces for moms that can be used as teethers for their babies. A liquid-filled teething ring that has been frozen can offer relief and is usually something that your baby can hold on its own.
A mesh fresh food feeder is a great option for little teethers at this stage. You can put cold or frozen, fresh fruits, veggies, and purees inside, and your baby can chew and suck out the goodies while the mesh keeps big chunks from getting into their mouth.
In addition to the suggestions above, you can introduce cold, hard vegetables that your older baby can gnaw on. A peeled carrot or a cucumber that has been placed in the freezer for a short while is a great option.
At this point, most toddlers can begin telling you what’s bothering them and what might be helpful.
At any stage, pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can offer temporary relief, as well as oral gels, as long as they don’t contain benzocaine.