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Teething is the time in infancy and early childhood when children get their primary teeth.

What is going on in the body? 
The age at which an infant begins to get teeth can vary. The average age is about 7 months, but some infants' teeth erupt when they are only 3 or 4 months old. Other babies do not begin to get teeth until they are 12 months or even a little older. All of these ages are normal. Sometimes infants are born with erupted teeth, but these are often loose and fall out.

There are a number of conditions that can cause teeth to develop abnormally, including:
  • ectodermal dysplasia, which occurs when certain parts of an embryo, like the hair, nails or teeth, do not develop the right way. Children with this condition fail to develop some or all of their teeth, or develop small, fragile teeth.
  • malformation syndromes in which some teeth fail to develop
  • rickets, a condition of abnormal bone growth caused by a lack of vitamin D
  • hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland works less than normal
  • progeria, a condition in which the body ages prematurely
  • Down syndrome, a birth defect that causes mental and physical problems
  • prolonged illness or malnutrition
These conditions can affect the normal development of teeth or the time that the teeth erupt.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
Teething may cause excess saliva, mild discomfort, and fussiness. Infants have a strong need to chew around the time that they are teething. This probably is a normal age-related activity that has nothing to do with teething.

If an infant has a fever, runny nose, diarrhoea or is unusually fussy, he or she probably has an infection. This situation should be discussed with the baby's doctor.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
If an infant seems to have discomfort during teething, it may help to:
  • give him or her something hard to chew on, like a teething ring or an unsweetened teething biscuit.
  • gently rub the gums with a finger or a soft, cold washcloth.
  • give an oral pain reliever, such as paracetamol oral drops, in a dose that's correct for the infant's weight. Generally only a few doses are required.
Oral teething pain relievers that are rubbed on the infant's gums probably are not much help, since the saliva in the mouth quickly washes the medication away. If the fussing is more than mild or is persistent, the situation should be discussed with the baby's doctor.

Author: John Wegmann, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 7/1/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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