Red cheeks, drooling, general grumpiness ... is it a tooth, or something else?

Red cheeks, drooling, general grumpiness ... is it a tooth, or something else?

When my eldest child sprouted his first tooth at around six months of age, it was cause for celebration. I felt like that tooth had been trying to edge its way out for months - that’s if the traditional (although much disputed by experts) signs were anything to go by. Drooling like a banshee, my little red-cheeked monster cried and whinged with his fists in his mouth for weeks and weeks leading up to the big event. Dodgy nappy contents and consistent grizzly periods all pointed to one thing: teething.

I’d figured it must be the reason he’d been so grumpy at four months, but there was no concrete proof for it until two entire months later. I had the benefit of what I liked to call the 'medical peanut gallery' also advising me on his health status: well-meaning grandparents diagnosed “teething”, well-meaning strangers in the queue at the supermarket assured me he was “teething”, other mums in the same miserable boat asked, “teething?”

When that first white shark fin cut through his gum, I wanted to yelp for joy 

I tried every product on the shelf and every old wives tale to ease his pain: iced teething rings, gum soothing gel, pain relief medications, cold face washers, and simple hugs from mum. Nothing worked and no tooth appeared. I ended up at the doctor thinking there must be something more sinister going on to justify all this hoo-ha. All the usual suspects - ear infections, colds - were ruled out. Back to sleepless nights and irritable, toothless baby.

When that first white shark fin cut through his gum I wanted to yelp for joy. Not because it was one of many milestones met, not because I could write something new in the baby book, but because I thought, "Hooray, all this grumpiness is now over!" (Remember, I was a first-time parent!).

As parents, we like explanations for our children’s strange and curious behaviours. Teething often fits the bill. It makes sense to us that a sharp object moving its way up from low down in the gum would cause pain and discomfort. We can reason that the swelling it may generate could also cause red cheeks, sore ears, temperatures and general irritability.

But read through the literature and you will struggle to find evidence or medical grounds for such hypotheses. The common symptoms of teething are strongly weighted towards anecdotal accounts.

I'm now a mother of four children, and whether it is medical, genetic, or some kind of blurry-parenting-glasses seeing the signs, all my children have exhibited the same indicators of teething. It starts with the drooling, then moves to the fist sandwiches, the red cheeks, often nasty nappy rash, then fairly offensive nappy changes. And then, eventually, that tooth stands up tall and announces its arrival. (It goes without saying that if your child is showing signs of illness – temperature, vomiting, etc - it's always better to have a doctor assess them, rather than assume it is merely teething).

Despite the unfavourable lead-up to the cutting of the first tooth, moving from gummy smile to gummy smile plus one little white picket is an exciting time. I love looking back at those photos of my little ones with their first tooth gleaming proudly centre stage in the gum, in a wide-mouthed grin.

There is something undisputedly gorgeous about a baby with a lone tooth - It marks the beginning of so many things. Then the other teeth follow fairly soon after, and before you know it, you’ll have visitation rights from the Tooth Fairy ... followed by dental bills for teenagers in braces!