Baby teething symptoms: just teething or something more serious?

As a new parent, we often wonder if our baby’s behavior is just normal baby teething symptoms, or if there’s something more serious going on. Learn to identify teething symptoms in your little one.

Baby’s have many uncomfortable behaviors in the first year of life, and often teething is blamed. My husband and I were guilty of this. We kept thinking “teething” whenever Olivia would be fussy or wouldn’t sleep, especially when she started to drool and stick everything in her mouth. However, she didn’t get her first tooth until 8 mos.

It’s true some children teeth very early and it’s also true some children may experience more intense symptoms than the norm. However, it’s important to understand a baseline of “normal,” so you don’t miss anything more serious that could be happening — separate from teething.

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the basics: What is teething?

Teething is when your baby’s teeth start to erupt. The process can last a few days, and can cause pain or discomfort when the teeth start poking through the gums. 

The teething timeline we experienced with Olivia:

Day 1: Gums look swollen, no teeth yet

Day 9: Heightened irritability, first signs of teeth

Day 12: Still cranky, but teeth are fully in

What does “normal” baby teething look like?

✅ Drooling

Drooling is a normal part of teething. However, babies can start drooling as early as 3-4 months even if they are not teething. At this time, their salivary glands begin to develop, but babies don’t master swallowing or have full control over the muscles around their mouth until about 18 months of age. This causes all the saliva to come out as drool

Remember, drool is good! It washes away accumulated food & bacteria and has an important role in your baby’s digestion.

Some tips to help with drooling:

  • Have a generous amount of bibs on hand
  • Wipe away excess drool to prevent prolonged contact with your baby’s skin
  • Use a moisture barrier ointment as needed, especially before your baby goes to sleep

✅ Hand to mouth and chewing

During teething, your baby’s gums may be painful or irritated. By pressing their hands against their gums, they could be trying to relieve the pain.

However, hand to mouth is not exclusively a teething symptom. Hands are your baby’s way of exploring the world around them. Many babies also suck on their fingers (or toes in Olivia’s case!) as a way of self-soothing or as a sign of hunger.

Some tips around hand to mouth:

  • Keep your baby’s hands clean
  • Introduce teething toys for ease of chewing
  • Encourage your baby’s exploration!

✅ Other common teething symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in eating / drinking or refusal of food
  • General crankiness and irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping through the night
  • “Swollen” gums and tenderness
  • Repetitive rubbing of the eyes, cheeks, or ears

What about white or yellowish bumps in my baby’s mouth?

Gingival cysts are white to yellowish bumps on the gum that can be present within the first 6 months of life. They may look like teeth erupting, but they will generally go away on their own. They’re quite common – about 55% to 80% of newborns experience gingival cysts!

What could be symptoms beyond teething alone?

❌Fever, diarrhea, and rash

If your baby experiences these symptoms, it is unlikely to be due to teething alone. Consult your pediatrician in order to rule out anything more serious that could be happening if you see these symptoms:

  • Fever > 100.4F – Teething may cause a slight elevation in body temp, but should not cause a true fever (>100.4F).
  • Diarrhea – Although some loose stool may be present, diarrhea is unrelated to teething.
  • Rash beyond mouth / chin area – Rash around the mouth/chin is normal from drool, but any other rashes could be something more serious.
  • Refusal to nurse or bottle feed
  • Excessive ear pulling – Ear pulling is normal in teething, but it could also be a sign of an ear infection
  • Prolonged fussiness or irritability abnormal from usual behavior

WHY DO BABIES SOMETIMES HAVE FEVER OR DIARRHEA WHEN TEETHING?

These symptoms may occur due to the new milestones your baby is experiencing around the same age teething occurs, at around 6 months.

These experiences may include:

  • Starting solids or transitioning formula/milk, which leads to bowel changes
  • Day care, hands in the mouth, and increased socialization leading to increased germ exposure
  • Natural development of viral illnesses around this time

Teething is a new experience, and it’s rough! As parents, we feel so much worry when our babies aren’t feeling 100%. But I promise it won’t last forever.

Any questions? Share your teething experience in the comments below! 👇🏼

5 thoughts on “Baby teething symptoms: just teething or something more serious?”

    1. Hi! It is common to worry when your baby’s teeth have not come in yet. In the literature, the appearance of the first tooth has been shown to range from 4 months to 15 months. However, if you are concerned, it doesn’t hurt to have a check up with your local pediatric dentist.

  1. This post came at just the right time! My son is 4.5 months (so still young!) but we noticed (bright) red blood coming from his gums today. Can this ever be a symptom of teething? We called pediatrician’s office and they said it was probably teething.

    1. Hi! The bleeding could certainly be a sign of teething, or inflamed gums as a result of the teething. However, if the bleeding persists, I would have a pediatric dentist do a quick exam to rule out anything more serious.

  2. Thanks for the information. We also blamed a lot of fussiness on teething. What’s your view on teething power/gels to help baby with the discomfort?

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