Teething and Fevers – The Real Scoop

Teething signs in babies are usually pretty easy to spot – the drooling, overall crankiness and disinterest in feeding – are all fairly classic symptoms that aren’t really up for debate.  A fever accompanying teething, however, is definitely a hot button topic among parents, pediatric dentists and pediatricians alike. So, do teething babies spike fevers? Read on for some important pieces of information regarding the teething and fevers controversy. 

Teething Fever vs. Medical Fever 

Most pediatricians and pediatric dentists are quick to say that a true fever is not caused by teething. However, if you ask parents, many will swear that their teething babies absolutely had a fever.  The difference between the beliefs of pediatricians and pediatric dentists and parents has everything to do with the definition of a fever. According to the medical community, a fever is defined as anything over 100.4 F for babies under three months and up to 102 F for babies over three months old.  

No studies have ever proven that a “teething fever” over 100.4 F exists. In fact, a 2016 article in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, looked at data from 10 studies and found that fevers above 100.4 F were not common during teething. Drooling, irritability, gum irritation and changes in sleeping patterns were all common symptoms and hallmarks of the teething process. 

However, a low-grade rise in body temperature may occur in some babies as teeth erupt through the gums; thus vindicating parents who notice a slight increase in their baby’s temperature. 

Teething vs. Something More Serious

The reason pediatricians and pediatric dentists are so insistent that there is no connection between a medical fever and teething is that they don’t want parents to mistake a potential sign of something more serious for typical teething symptoms. Any fever above 100.4 F in babies under three months, and over 102 F in older babies, coupled with extreme fussiness, diaper rash, runny nose, cough, diarrhea and difficulty sleeping, should not be ignored.  If your baby exhibits any or all of these symptoms, a call to your pediatrician is a must to rule out illness or infection. 

If your baby has a very slight temperature and is drooling, seems fussier than usual, has a facial rash and is chewing on anything and everything in sight, they are most likely teething. 

Treating a “Teething Fever”

Typically, teething symptoms, including a slight rise in body temperature, peak during the eruption of the primary incisors or front teeth. For most babies, this occurs between six months and sixteen months. If your baby does have a low-grade increase in temperature, it usually will occur the day before and the day of the eruption of a new tooth. There really isn’t any concrete proof as to why this slight increase in temperature happens, but some theorize that it is caused by gum inflammation and/or the fact that babies constantly put everything in their mouths. 

While parents are eager to relieve all symptoms of teething, it is important to note that reaching for the Tylenol shouldn’t be the first line of defense.  First, try rubbing a soft, cool washcloth on your baby’s gums or have your baby chew on teething rings. You can also massage their gums with a clean finger. (As an aside, never put a teething ring in the freezer. If the object is too cold, it can hurt your baby’s gums. In addition, teething rings can break open and leak if placed in the freezer versus the refrigerator). 

If none of these methods work, or your baby’s teething symptoms seem to be getting worse, you can give your baby acetaminophen (Tylenol).  It is extremely important to ask your pediatrician or pediatric dentist about specific dosing guidelines. And remember that ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) should not be given to babies under six months old. 

No Controversy Here – You Know Your Baby Best

Remember to trust your parental instincts. If your baby seems out of sorts, with or without a temperature, and can’t be soothed, call your pediatrician. Also, if teething symptoms worsen or if you are unsure if your baby’s symptoms are related to teething or may be caused by something else entirely, it’s never a bad idea to reach out to your pediatrician. 

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