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Teething Troubles: The Do's And Don'ts Of Teething Pain Relief

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Teething is one of the least pleasant parts of a young child's development, and not just for your baby - a house with a baby in pain is never a peaceful place to be. It's unsurprising, then, that there are a myriad of pain relief potions and nostrums on the market designed for teething babies. There are also a range of home remedies that come widely recommended, ranging from standard medical practises to the more scientifically dubious. But which of these many options are worth taking?

Basic pain relief

These simple remedies and tried and tested, and while not hugely effective they will provide your child with safe, consistent respite from the pain:

  • Your baby will probably enjoy sucking on a dummy anyway, and the action of chewing on the rubber teat can help soothe a baby's pain. Overuse of a dummy leading to crooked teeth is an urban myth (it will only affect permanent teeth), but you should avoid dipping the dummy in sweet, sugary foods.
  • Teething rings are another common remedy, but be cautious - liquid-filled teething rings are prone to leaking and, crucially, cannot be effectively sterilised. Choose a solid, silicone-based ring that can be sterilised in the dishwasher or freezer between uses.
  • If your child is in considerable pain, letting them chew on a clean washcloth soaked in chilled water, or rubbing a cold finger gently across the gums, can help. They may also appreciate a bottle of chilled water to numb the gums slightly.
  • If the child is more than six months old, but still teething, soft, cold foods, such as a pureed banana kept in the fridge, may help. Avoid solid foods, as the baby is still at considerable risk of choking.

Bear in mind that the use of teething rings and dummies can lead to excessive drooling, which may end up causing a painful rash on the baby's lower lip and chin. You should clean excess saliva off the baby's chin regularly. You might also want to apply petroleum jelly to the baby's chin at night, to prevent skin irritation before it starts.

Teething gels and salves

​Anaesthetic teething gels are widely used and relatively effective. However, they come with a number of disadvantages to bear in mind:

  • Gels can only relieve so much pain, due to the low concentrations of painkillers that small children can take safely.
  • They are not particularly long-lasting, as saliva washes them away quickly - expect half an hour's worth of relief, at most.
  • Some parents have reported that teething gels can harden a baby's gums, although this remains unverified scientifically.
  • In extremely rare cases, your child can have a serious reaction to benzocaine, a painkiller present in many teething gels. Characterised by pale skin, shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat, this reaction is called methemoglobinemia, and can be potentially fatal.  

Paracetamol and ibuprofen

These common painkillers are safe for your child to take, but only if given tiny, strictly controlled doses. If your child's pain cannot be eased, and you have ruled out other sources of pain besides teething, your paediatrician will advise you on correct dosages. These dosages can be administered in liquid solutions designed specially for small children.

Under NO circumstances must you give your child aspirin. Safe-sounding 'baby' aspirin has long been a popular choice, but aspirin use in infancy is now linked directly to the onset of Reye's syndrome, a rare but deadly illness that causes massive brain and liver swelling, and can kill in a matter of hours.

Homoeopathic and alternative remedies

A wide range of 'alternative' medicines and remedies are available, often in pharmacies. They range from tablets or powders administered orally, to more esoteric choices like crystals and precious stones. Frankly, they should all be avoided, as none are medically verified, and many are not regulated by any government authority - some homoeopathic powders have even been found to contain belladonna, an extremely poisonous plant extract.

For more information, check out dentists such as Dental Care @ Bentons.