Teething Toddlers: What to Expect

“Teething is the pits!” my friend told me.  I had no clue what an understatement that would be.

As a first time mom, I had no idea what to expect when it came to teething.  The pediatrician said I will detect excessive drooling but that’s it.  She failed to warn me of hunger strikes.  I was thoroughly confused when Kermit, at 6 months adjusted age, abruptly stopped nursing and drinking from a bottle.  Complicating matters, his teething directly coincided with introduction of solids and doctor mandate for him to gain more weight since he was falling off his growth curve.  My pediatrician, who I totally respect and value, instructed me to make a “valiant effort” to feed Kermit 30 oz of milk and 3 solid feedings of diluted rice cereal.  Seriously, I spent every ounce of energy trying to feed my child.

I would wake him up two times in the middle of the night because that’s when I found him to be more amenable to drinking larger volumes.  Until he stopped.  I would sit for an hour at every solid feeding waiting for him to open his mouth.  I would sing and dance, make crazy sounds by smacking my lips, and tickle him for any opportunity to shove the spoon into his mouth.  He got smarter:  he’d laugh with his mouth closed.  I laughed and cried to the point of exhaustion.

I finally figured out he was teething when I heard loud shrieks in the middle of the night.  For an infant who loves his sleep (he could sleep 12-14 consecutive hours throughout the night at 4 months old), something was amiss.  After three weeks of his food strike and interrupted sleep, Kermit cut his first tooth on New Year’s Eve.  His second tooth emerged three days later.  He had mild discomfort for the next two weeks and then the symptoms reappeared with great force.  His uppers came in—4 at the same time!  Let’s just say feeding and sleeping was even more miserable for both of us.

I almost cried when I learned babies grow 20 primary teeth by age 3.  TWENTY!  According to Baby Center’s website, this is the order of appearance:
1.  2 lower central incisors at 4-7 months old
2.  2 upper central incisors at 8-12 months
3.  2 upper lateral incisors, right and left of center, at 9-13 months
4.  2 lower lateral incisors, right and left of center, at 10-16 months 5.  2 upper first molars, the wider teeth second to the back of the mouth, at 13-19 months
6.  2 lower first molars at 14-18 months
7.  2 upper canines/ cuspids, which fill the gap between the incisors and first molars, at 16-22 months
8.  2 lower canines at 17-23 months
9.  2 lower second molars at 23-31 months
10.  2 upper second molars at 25-33 months.

If you pay close attention to the age of each tooth’s appearance, there is a lot of overlap.  Like I mentioned earlier, Kermit got his upper central and upper lateral incisors all at once.  I suspect he is getting his upper and bottom molars simultaneously as I write.  Poor little guy.

Most reference guides list drooling, gum sensitivity, irritability, gnawing behavior, refusal of food, and sleep problems among teething symptoms.  One must read between the lines, though, to understand the extent of the experience.  Sleep problems translate to sporadic deafening shrieks in the middle of the night; refusal of food can last for weeks; and irritability demands constant attention to baby’s clingy-ness.  In addition to these symptoms, Kermit would tug on his ears and cough a lot before a tooth cut through the gums.

The one thing I wish someone told me at the beginning of this process is:  your baby will not go hungry for the duration of the food strike.  He will definitely eat when he’s hungry.

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Treatment for teething pain include:  cold things, pressure, topical medicine, painkillers, and homeopathic remedies.  I tried all of these suggestions except for topical medicine (e.g. numbing cream or gels) because, as one friend warned:  what numbed the front can numb the back of the mouth resulting in gagging.  Of course, this was my personal decision.

Kermit predominantly found relief in iceys and anything cold.  I would make flavored ice cubes out of puree and milk.  I also would feed him cold milk on some of my more exasperated feeding days.  My friend made cold or frozen washcloths for her twins’ comfort which Kermit also loved.  To soothe his growing discomfort throughout the day and particularly at night, i would preemptively give him homeopathic chamomile drops every 6 hours.

On really really bad days when he would awaken every hour in pain, I gave him half doses (that the pediatrician recommended according to his respective weight) of acetaminophen only at night time.  I also made the personal decision to give him painkillers for a maximum of three consecutive nights followed by at least two nights of no administration.  My rationale was I did not want him to be too reliant on acetaminophen because he may have a lower threshold of pain when the molars and canines appeared.

Currently, Kermit has 6 pearly whites and, I think, 4 molars cutting through the gums.  He will not let me near his mouth.  He will sometimes eat solid chunks only if he can administer the feeding himself.  He likes to test his teeth while eating puffs and wafers and gnawing on his crib rails.  We await for another 10+ teeth.  God help us.

Despite the hardship, it’s undeniably cute when he smiles his little chipmunk gap toothed grin.  It melts my heart every time.

-Jeanne

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