As parents, we would do pretty much anything to help soothe our babies when they’re in pain. You may find your little one is uncomfortable and notice that their gums are swollen. But do babies’ gums swell when teething? Unfortunately, teething is a milestone that often comes with discomfort for our little ones and their gums do, in fact, swell and get inflamed.
In this article, we will explore why babies’ gums swell when they’re teething, other possible reasons for swelling if they are not teething, and tips to soothe your little one.
- Why do babies’ gums swell when teething?
- When does teething start?
- What are the most common signs and symptoms of teething?
- What if baby’s gums are swollen, but it’s not teething?
- How to soothe your baby’s swollen gums
Why do babies’ gums swell when teething?
When babies are teething, their gums may become swollen and sore because of the pressure from the emerging first teeth. As a baby’s teeth begin to push through the gums, the tissue around the tooth becomes inflamed and swollen, causing discomfort and pain. The gums around the emerging teeth may become swollen, red, and sensitive to the touch. Babies may rub their gums or chew on their hands or objects to relieve the discomfort.
During the teething process, the body releases chemicals that cause inflammation, which can lead to swelling and tenderness in the gums. This inflammation also stimulates nerve endings in the gums, which can cause pain and discomfort for the baby.
Additionally, as the teeth move through the gums, they can cause the tissue to stretch and tear slightly, leading to further inflammation and discomfort. While swelling of the gums during teething is a natural response of the body to the emerging teeth and the process of tooth eruption, it’s certainly no fun for anyone.
When does teething start?
It can be tough not knowing when teething is going to happen, compounded by the fact that the signs and symptoms are pretty common, even when baby isn’t teething. I remember when my first son was around 3 months of age thinking, oh he’s for sure teething! I was a first time mom and I thought drooling equalled a teething baby.
I soon learned this is not the case, at least not for everyone. Your baby’s first tooth can come at any time—the range of normal is so wide. My friend’s kids had a full mouth of teeth at their first birthday, while mine barely had two! (As you can see, my baby was NOT teething at 3 months old!). According to mouthhealthy.org, a website by the American Dental Association, “[teeth] typically start to come through between 6 and 12 months. Children usually have their full set of baby teeth in place by age 3.”
While we tend to associate teething with younger babies, don’t forget that the first molars erupt shortly after! Molars typically erupt in a baby’s mouth between 12-18 months of age. The swelling and inflammation associated with the eruption of these teeth can cause discomfort and pain for the baby.
It is important for parents to provide their baby with comfort measures such as teething toys, cold washcloths, or pain relievers recommended by their pediatrician to help alleviate their baby’s discomfort (keep reading for proven tips below).
What are the most common signs and symptoms of teething?
Beyond gum swelling, the most common signs and symptoms of teething include:
During teething, babies can become fussy and irritable due to the discomfort and pain caused by the emerging teeth.
Teething can cause an increase in saliva production, which can lead to excessive drooling. This can cause skin irritation around the mouth and chin.
Loss of appetite:
Some babies may experience a loss of appetite or may refuse to eat during the teething process due to the discomfort in their gums.
Some babies may experience a slight increase in body temperature (less than 100.4°F or 38°C) during teething, which is a normal part of the body’s response to inflammation.
Teething can cause discomfort and pain that may disrupt a baby’s sleep pattern, causing them to wake up more frequently during the night.
Ear pulling or rubbing:
The pain from teething can radiate to the ears, causing babies to pull or rub their ears.
Changes in bowel movements:
Some babies may experience changes in their bowel movements, such as diarrhea or loose stools, during teething. However, this is not a common symptom and may be caused by other factors.
It is important to note that not all babies experience the same symptoms during teething. Some may have a more difficult time than others, while some may not show any symptoms at all. My oldest son was never cranky and had no symptoms the entire time he was teething, whereas my younger son was extremely bothered by his teeth coming in and had many symptoms.
It is also important to rule out any other medical conditions that may be causing symptoms, such as an ear infection or fever, before attributing them to teething.
What if baby’s gums are swollen, but it’s not teething?
So your baby is experiencing all of these symptoms, but it doesn’t seem like teething is the cause. You may suspect that your baby isn’t teething because the swelling is in a spot where teeth came in a while ago, or you may have mom-intuition because it simply doesn’t look or feel like a tooth is coming out any time soon.
First of all, it’s important to note that it can never hurt to speak with your primary care provider or a pediatric dentist if you’re unsure what’s going on. In the meantime, here are some possible reasons why your baby’s gums may swell when they’re not teething:
An eruption cyst is a small fluid-filled sac that forms on the gum over an erupting tooth. It is a normal part of the teething process and usually resolves on its own once the tooth emerges. The swelling and inflammation associated with an eruption cyst can cause discomfort and pain for the baby.
Tooth decay can cause swelling and inflammation in the gums around a baby’s teeth. Bacteria in the mouth can break down sugars and produce acids that can attack the teeth, leading to decay. If the decay is not treated, it can spread to the gums, causing inflammation and swelling.
Although ear infections are not directly related to teething, they can cause swollen gums in babies. This is because the same nerves that supply sensation to the teeth and gums also supply sensation to the ears. As a result, an ear infection can cause pain and inflammation in the gums around the teeth.
Poor oral hygiene:
Poor oral hygiene can lead to inflammation and swelling of the gums, which can be especially problematic during teething. When babies are teething, they tend to put their hands and objects in their mouth, which can introduce bacteria and cause infection. Seeing a dentist can help set you on the right track. According to the Mayo Clinic, “The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend scheduling a child’s first dental visit at or near his or her first birthday.”
Consuming sugary foods can lead to tooth decay and gum inflammation, which can cause swelling in a baby’s gums. It is important to limit the consumption of sugary foods and drinks, especially during the teething process.
Certain medical conditions can cause swollen gums in babies, such as gingivitis, an inflammatory condition that affects the gums. Gingivitis is known as the first stage of gum disease and is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the gums. This can occur in babies who have poor oral hygiene or whose parents are not brushing their teeth regularly.
If you tend to have health anxiety, don’t read this part! I say this because I am like that and tend to worry about the worst case scenario, even if it’s highly highly unlikely. So if this is you, there’s no need to even read this section because it’s SUPER rare.
In rare cases, certain serious medical conditions or diseases can cause swollen gums in babies. For example, leukemia or other types of cancer can cause swollen gums as a symptom.
How to soothe your baby’s swollen gums
Regardless of the cause, swollen and inflamed gums are no fun at all, and you are surely eager to soothe your baby’s discomfort. Here are some ways to soothe your baby’s swollen gums and discomfort:
You can use a clean finger to gently massage the baby’s swollen gums. The pressure can help to ease the discomfort caused by teething.
Good oral hygiene is important for preventing tooth decay and gum disease. This includes wiping the baby’s gums with a clean, damp cloth after feedings, and brushing their teeth as soon as they emerge. This can help to reduce inflammation and swelling in the gums. Preventative care can also include food. A balanced diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals can help to support the baby’s overall health, including their oral health.
If the baby is experiencing severe pain or discomfort, you may consider giving them a dose of acetaminophen (also known as Paracetamol or Tylenol). Any drug administration should always be done under the guidance of a pediatrician and according to the recommended dosage instructions based on the baby’s weight and age.
You can use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently massage the baby’s gums and clean their emerging teeth. This can help to reduce inflammation and promote good oral hygiene.
Teething gels that contain numbing agents can be applied to the baby’s gums to provide temporary relief from pain and discomfort. It is important to use teething gels according to the manufacturer’s instructions and under the guidance of a pediatrician.
Cold and chewing:
Offering the baby cool water to drink or allowing them to suck on a cold pacifier can help to reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief. Chilled teething rings or teething toys can also provide relief for your baby’s swollen gums. The coolness can help to reduce inflammation and the pressure from chewing can help to relieve discomfort. You can also wet a clean washcloth with cool water and allow the baby to chew on it for a similar effect.
It is important to note that these methods may not work for every baby and it is important to consult with a pediatrician if the baby is experiencing severe pain or discomfort. Additionally, some of these methods may not be appropriate for very young babies, and it is important to use them under adult supervision.
There’s not much that’s cuter than seeing a new tooth appear in your baby’s mouth for the first time as they give you a gummy smile. Unfortunately the path to that cuteness overload involves discomfort and sometimes pain for your little one.
When you think about the teething process, it makes sense that it makes our little ones cranky. Imagine a sharp tooth eruption from your gums. Ouch. It’s no wonder our baby’s gums swell when they’re teething. If you’re going through this right now, be sure to give you and your little one a lot of compassion and extra cuddles. Try some of these tips, and always check with doctor if you are concerned.