Drooling babies chewing on everything but the kitchen sink usually means teeth are on their way. It can be an upsetting time, both for the baby cutting teeth and parents trying to console and comfort them through the discomfort. But what many parents don’t realise is that fevers, often mistaken as another symptom of teething, are not related at all.
Westmead Children’s Hospital general medicine staff specialist, Dr David Lester-Smith, says it is a very commonly held ‘old wives tale’ that fevers and teething are linked. There is no proven connection between the two and if children had temperatures it was mostly likely a viral illness, he says.
“There is a great quote in an old text book that the thing teething gives you is teeth not fevers,” Dr Lester-Smith says.
The truth about teething
Teething occurs in most children between six to 24 months, which Dr Lester-Smith says is also the age when they were susceptible to re-occurring viral illnesses.
“If children get a fever it’s not likely to be teething and could be an underlying illness,” he says.
Teething is a normal part of every child’s development and according to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead tooth development fact sheet, a baby’s first teeth begins to form in the 16th week of pregnancy. At about six months, baby teeth start to come through the gums.
While many babies have no trouble at all, for some it can be very painful and upsetting. They may show a brief period of irritability by sleeping badly and becoming fussy when it comes to meal times. Their gums might look swollen as well as sore and they may have red cheeks.
Medical advice recommends rubbing gums with ice may help and give children extra comfort. By the time a child is six their permanent back teeth, sometimes known as six-year-old molars, begin to push through.
Teething is not an illness
If your child has fevers, diarrhoea or rashes parents should seek medical help, Dr Lester-Smith says.
“By definition, erupting teeth and infection, the two can occur in concurrence,” he said. “But children that are teething are a little more fussy and not much else, they shouldn’t get a fever.”
Australian Dental Association oral health committee spokesperson, Derek Lewis, echoes Dr Lester-Smith’s advice, that teeth erupting through the gum is a normal part of growing and not a disease.
“There was a theory when my kids were growing up that the top teeth caused a running nose and the bottom diarrhoea, that’s not the case,” Dr Lewis says. “It’s a very localised thing in the mouth and doesn’t spread, but it can become uncomfortable.”
This story was first published in The Saturday Daily Telegraph.