This little fella in his beautifully soft “Elegance of Flight” Bumber 🛫 is sporting his first two teeth! When my little love got his first tooth, he was six months old – right on time, according to baby statistics! But even still, it took me by surprise. He didn’t seem particularly fussy or drooly in the days and weeks leading up to it. I hadn’t noticed any redness or swelling. He was his typical happy self. Maybe because it took me by surprise, I – baring my soul here – broke into tears. I felt a sense of grief that the “baby baby” days were coming to an end. If we did our jobs right, he’d never be tooth-free again, and I knew I would miss that gummy smile. But it was also a little exciting. We were entering a new stage of his development. Now, what did I have to know and what could we do to celebrate?!
What to Know
Baby’s first tooth usually appears around 6 months old, though as with all things baby, when that milestone occurs can vary. The first teeth to come in are almost always the lower front teeth (the lower central incisors). Typically, teething does not cause much discomfort. However, you might notice some increased fussiness, drooling, and/or swelling and redness in the gums. A baby's body temperature might also slightly rise when teething, but it should not reach the level of a fever (100.4℉).
If your baby is uncomfortable, you can help ease teething pain by massaging his or her gums with clean fingers, offering solid, not liquid-filled, teething rings, or a clean frozen or wet washcloth. My mother-in-law was a proponent of putting frozen berries in a teething bag . That worked great with my nephew, but my son never took to it. While some parents swear by them, teething beads didn’t work for us either. (For information on teething beads, the risks and how to safely use them, click here.) I’ve also known people to give their children teething biscuits. If you go that route, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests you “make sure to watch your baby while he or she is eating it. Chunks can break off easily and can lead to choking. Also, these biscuits are not very nutritious and most contain sugar and salt.”
If the discomfort becomes painful, talk with your pediatrician about giving a weight-appropriate dose of acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or, if over 6 months, ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin). Your pediatrician can help you determine the right dose in milliliters (mL) based on your child's age and weight. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against using any sort of topical medication to treat teething pain in children, including prescription or OTC creams and gels, or homeopathic teething tablets. According to the FDA, they offer little to no benefit and are associated with serious risk.
Once the teeth come in, it is important to care for them. While some people think of baby teeth as expendable just because they are temporary, healthy baby teeth and gums are very important to a child’s development. Baby teeth are necessary for chewing, speaking, and smiling. They also serve as placeholders for the adult teeth. According to the National Institutes of Health, if teeth are infected or lost too early due to decay, your child may develop poor eating habits, crooked teeth, and “delayed milestones due to malnutrition and inability to concentrate…, poor memory, stunted growth, difficulties in speech and articulation, and lowered self-esteem.” Also, the chances that adult teeth will end up being crooked or damaged are greatly increased. In addition to the developmental issues identified, tooth decay can also cause a child immense pain and discomfort. All this to state the obvious: you need to care for baby teeth, just as you need to care for your own.
To properly care for baby teeth, brush them twice a day and start flossing once two adjacent teeth appear. It is important not to let your baby fall asleep drinking milk, formula, or juice from a bottle unless you remove the bottle immediately after the child falls asleep. When a child falls asleep with a bottle full of milk or juice, some of the liquid from the bottle pools behind the sleeping child's front teeth. The bacteria that cause cavities then have all the time and sugars they need to erode the enamel on those tiny teeth and cause decay or even tooth loss. (This early childhood tooth decay is often referred to as “Baby Bottle Decay,” “Baby Bottle Syndrome” or “Early Child Caries.”) Lastly, check with your dentist about when and how often to schedule baby’s visits.
Now to Celebrate!
Around the world, the first tooth is an important milestone, and there are some really cool first tooth traditions out there. If you have a first tooth tradition in your family, I’d love to hear about it. Post it in the comments!! 😊 And if you’re game to possibly learn a little something new, keep reading!
Some Italians and Irish have a tradition that a teething child receive a gift of shoes. Why shoes? They signify that the baby is thriving and it is a safe time to anticipate his or her first steps.
A Russian tradition is for the godmother, grandmother, grandfather or other close relative of the baby to present the baby with a silver spoon. If the mother gently knocks the first tooth with that silver spoon, or feeds the baby with it, it is believed the baby will have strong teeth in the future.
An Armenian tradition is called “Agra Hadig.” (“Agra” means tooth and “Hadig” is the traditional wheat dish made for the occasion.) The mother prepares Hadig at the sign of her baby's first tooth. The child's head is then covered with a scarf and the mixture is sprinkled over top. Also, the baby is presented with five items. It is believed that whichever one he or she picks up predicts his or her future occupation. A child who picks up a book will be a scholar, teacher, or clergy person. Money means the child will become a banker, financier or wealthy person. A child who selects a hammer will be in the building trades. A knife symbolizes a doctor. Scissors - life as a seamstress or tailor.
A Lebanese tradition is called Sanyniyeh. “Snayn” means “teeth.” Snayniyeh is a special, very colorful, dish to celebrate baby’s first tooth. It consists of cooked wheat garnished with sugar, grilled and colored chickpeas, almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. Snayniyeh is sent to relatives and neighbors, who each fill the emptied bowl with a small gift then return it.
For the Igbo people, the first person who sees – and mentions – a tooth in a baby’s mouth must make a present for the baby (typically a chicken or cash). Mothers and grandmothers, who usually see the tooth first, keep their lips sealed, but stealthily try to trick someone else into mentioning it.
Among Bashkirs, a complete stranger must first notice baby’s first tooth. That person becomes the baby’s “Tesh Atai” – the tooth father.
For the Karo Bataks, toothless babies are not enough strong to resist evil spirits alone. Consequently, the first tooth is an important milestone. Hair and teeth (especially canines) demonstrate the increasing strength of the child. They wait for a child to teethe his or her canines before cutting the child’s hair. When the first tooth erupts, Karo Bataks call a priest to predict their little one’s future.
Among the Caucasus Jews, the first tooth tradition is called Gendume Dushe. The baby’s grandmother cooks a dish from wheat, lentils, beans, rice, and beef shank, flavors it with nuts and onion, and distributes it among neighbors. The belief is that baby’s gums will soften like the grains after cooking, and the teething will be less painful.
Ancient Christians are believed to have waiting until the baby’s first tooth came in to baptize the baby. After the baptism, the baby was given money.
The ancient Scandinavians and Germans would tie the fang of a wolf around the baby’s neck on a leather necklace to encourage the growth of strong, healthy teeth.
Some celebrate a child's first tooth by consuming a dentist’s moneymaker: SWEETS! An old Jewish folk tradition had parents showering the baby's head with candy. In Syria and Lebanon, families may treat themselves to sugarcoated almonds when a child's first tooth erupts.
Now that’s something to celebrate – and chew on!