Teething’s a normal developmental process that people have long associate with illness. However, the evidence says otherwise. Teething is when new teeth emerge through the gums; and usually starts at about six months of age. A review of 16 studies found that although teething was link with signs and symptoms; these were usually mild involving gum irritation, irritability, and drooling.

Although body temperature may be slightly raise, the review found poor evidence to suggest cause fever. Many symptoms are linked like irritability, sleep disturbance and drooling; are difficult to measure objectively and are based on what parents report, which is subjective and may be inaccurate.

Other biological triggers may in fact explain the symptoms traditionally link to teething. Teething coincides with normal changes in children’s immunity; the mother’s antibodies are transferred to babies in pregnancy and help protect the baby in the first 6-12 months of life, but start to wane at about the same time as teething.

This, together with behavioral changes as infants start to explore their surroundings; increases the chances of catching viral infections with symptoms like those reported for teething. As symptoms are generally likely to be mild and focuse on the mouth; parents are warn; against presuming that signs of illness in other parts of the body are due to teething. That’s because this may delay the detection of potentially serious infections that may need medical attention. It may also delay parents getting help settling their child to sleep.

About teething gels

The search for solutions to the perceive problem may lead parents to pin their hopes on gels; toys and other products, none of which have been scientifically assess to alleviate symptoms. Nevertheless, teething gels usually contain a variety of ingredients that help relieve suppose teething-related symptoms.

Some, such as the recently discontinued Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital Teething Gel, contain the anaesthetic lidocaine. Very little lidocaine is absorb into the body when apply to the gums; and only minor complications like vomiting have been reported in Australia. However, accidental swallowing and applying too much can lead to poisoning; resulting in seizures, brain injury, and heart problems.

There have also been warnings about teething gels containing benzocaine. This is another anaesthetic apply to the gums that can lead to a dangerous and fatal blood condition called methaemoglobinaemia; which affects the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Another common ingredient in popular teething gels is choline salicylate, an anti-inflammatory similar to aspirin. This increases the risk of liver disease and brain injury if the child eats too much.

This may also carry the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious condition that can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness and death. Reye syndrome has been link to the use of aspirin in children, particularly during viral infections. A number of young Australian children who used too much salicylate-containing gel; have also reportedly been hospitalize with side-effects. But the products are still available in Australia.

Natural and homeopathic solutions

Although a range of “natural” and homeopathic teething solutions are heavily market to parents of young children; these too have risks. A manufacturer recently recalled a range of natural teething gels after cases of report poisoning. And US regulatory authorities found the same range contain higher than report levels of belladonna, a poisonous plant that despite its dangers is used as a homeopathic pain killer and sedative.

In searching for “natural” therapies, parents are also turning to amber teething necklaces that supposedly relieve teething symptoms. Amber is a fossilise tree resin that has historically been suggest to have anti-inflammatory properties. However, several widely reported cases of strangulation have led to warnings from both US and Australian regulatory authorities. There is currently no scientific evidence these necklaces work.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says amber and other “teething” necklaces, even when mothers wear them, are: “…colourful and playful in design, and may be confuse with toys.” All toys for children aged 36 months and below, including teething toys, are strictly regulated by Australian standards. As the ACCC warns, teething necklaces are unlikely to fulfil this requirement.

What to do?

So what are the best options to relieve teething symptoms? With a lack of any good-quality evidence to recommend any specific therapy, experts suggest the best remedy is affection and attention. Rubbing a clean finger on the gum, or applying gentle, firm pressure with a cooled (but not frozen); clean washcloth or teething ring may provide some relief.

Although it’s hard to know exactly how these work, they are unlikely to lead to serious problems. Teething can be a difficult time, but it will eventually pass. In the meantime, it is important that parents should be careful; and avoid falling prey to supposed cures that are not only unproven, but are also potentially dangerous.