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  • Writer's pictureMary Cantwell

Teething and Baby Sleep

Teething-the most common culprit associated with disrupted sleep!   Our children usually have all of their teeth by the time they are 2 to 3 years old, so we are going to be seeing this more often than not.  The first thing that comes to mind with teeth is a baby drooling like crazy.  Drooling is associated most often with a child getting their teeth and going through teething, but is it? We will cover the signs of teething, is it a regression or is it teething, the research on teething, how long does teething typically last and how can we help during teething?


Sign of Teething

When a baby's sleep is off, our first thought is that the baby must be teething! I totally get it, I did it with my children as well!  The thing about teething is that the disruption it has on sleep typically lasts from two to eight days.  We will get into the research soon on this but let’s first gather the most common signs of teething.

Common signs of teething:

·         Swollen and tender gums

·         Fussiness

·         Slightly raised temperature (less than 101°)

·         Chewing or gnawing

·         Excessive drooling


Is it teething or regression?

Teething typically only affects sleep when we see the swollen gums with the telltale white nubs possibly protruding from the gum, the day of eruption if the tooth and a day or so afterwards.  Once that occurs, we should see sleep improving and start going back to normal for the child. Regressions typically last a few weeks and are related to an uptick in motor and verbal developments.



The research on teething

The most extensive study on teething was conducted daily over 8 months with 47 infants to monitor the association of a tooth erupting and when the signs and symptoms were present.  Parents were interviewed daily to collect the baby’s temperature, check their gums, and get a gauge on their demeanor and behavior. At the end of the study, teething was determined to raise the temperature slightly (not clinical fevers), sleep disturbances, drooling, irritability, diarrhea, rashes, runny nose and appetite loss.  The interesting thing was that it was a few days before the tooth emerged, the day of eruption and a few days afterward.  These symptoms were not regularly happening days before the eruption.


We often wonder how to help manage their pain as they go through what we think is months of teething and want to reference the Slate article about tooth eruption and the pain an infant may be feeling due to the tooth “stabbing” through the gum.  “That’s one of those myths,” explains Clay Jones, a pediatric and newborn hospitalist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts, who wrote about teething for the popular blog Science-Based Medicine. “What happens is that the gums remodel—they move out of the way as the tooth emerges.” After all, Jones says, gums don’t bleed when kids teethe. A 2003 study documented a statistically significant increase in one inflammatory marker during infant teething, but the rest of the markers the study tested, called cytokines, didn’t change much. “A baby might be in pain or having some degree of discomfort, but I think that a significant amount of pain is not likely or plausible,” Jones says.


How long does it last?

The research reflects the range for sleep disturbances related to teething is approximately 8 days.  It typically lasts around 4 days prior to the tooth eruption, day of eruption and up to 3 days after tooth eruption. Our kids get 90% of their teeth in the first 2 years and the symptoms of teething can mimic other symptoms and gets targeted because off the high occurrence of teeth.


How can we help with teething

·         Teething toys

·         Cold washcloth to gnaw on

·         Pain relievers if needed (check with pediatrician prior to giving)

·         Additional comfort like rocking, holding, babywearing, lovey for 1 year plus)

·         Homeopathic remedies (check with pediatrician prior to administering)



baby teething


How we can help with their sleep

In addition to the above, the most important tip is to stay consistent on our sleep routines and have a plan on how we respond to the wakes that typically don’t happen.  Also, we can have items on hand that have helped with teething prepped for the night in case we need to grab them in the middle of the night to help with the discomfort.  The positive is that the teething that can disrupt sleep typically lasts a few days and once the tooth erupts, we start seeing the prior sleep patterns come back.


Teething is woven into the fabric of the first few years! As we understand how teeth affect our child it can help us determine how to respond to changes in their sleep.  If sleep is a struggle outside of teething, let’s schedule a complimentary Discovery Call so that we can answer any questions you have and get more information on what is happening sleep wise.

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