Lee Beers, MD, pediatrician at Children’s National Health System guides parents on how to soothe a teething toddler.
Soothing a teething toddler is a major concern for parents. The frustrated faces, loud cries, and aching gums want relief as soon as possible. Parents want the best and healthiest solution to soothe their child’s pain. The most important thing is to remember that the pain and discomfort is intermittent and temporary.
Teething tends to seem worse at night or when children are tired, as that is a time where they will be most bothered by discomfort and harder to distract. The gums can be quite sore, especially during the period when the teeth are close to erupting. My personal preference is to try non-pharmacologic remedies first before moving to medication.
Infants typically begin teething between 3-6 months, but the “first year molars” usually come between about a year to a year and a half of age. Because these are larger teeth than the first few that come in, they can be a bit more painful. Typical symptoms include an increase in drooling (though kids at this age drool a lot regardless), fussiness, putting things in their mouth (though again, this happens a lot regardless) and trying to chew on things. Often you can see the tooth beginning to break through.
What I find most effective is letting toddlers chew on a washcloth soaked in ice cold water. The cold helps with pain relief, and the texture of the washcloth is soothing on the gums. Teething toys can be effective, but are not really necessary. I think the best teething toys are those that you can freeze. Other cold things can be helpful too—such as drinking ice water or cold fruit, but be careful of small things that could be choking hazards.
There are two main types of medication—topical and oral. The topical medicine most used is benzocaine (Orajel). My feeling about this medication is that it is effective but only for a very short period of time. For a toddler who is really uncomfortable it can be a good temporary fix until the immediate pain passes. Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen are longer acting medications that can provide pain relief.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over-the-counter topical teething gels are sometimes used for teething. These gels can be dangerous to use because they come with serious risks, such as local reactions or seizures with overdose. Also, benzocaine-containing teething gels should not be used in infants or children under two years of age.
It is important to make sure that teething toys are really designed for young children to chew on them, without small parts or materials which may break off and be a choking hazard. This is a rule of thumb in all cases when dealing with small children.