The “emergence” of baby teeth is a source of great anxiety and sometimes panic for parents. The myth that the baby suffers when teeth emerge has its roots in ancient times and in many cultures. The appearance of baby teeth has been associated with general health symptoms for over 5,000 years. Hippocrates, Homer, Celsus, and Aristotle all mention that the rising of teeth causes serious symptoms. In the works of the Hippocratic Compendium, “Aphorisms, Section Three 24-29” it is noted that with teething there are irritations of the gums, fevers, spasms, diarrhea, especially when the canines appear.
In France in the 18th century, half of the infant deaths recorded were caused by “teething”! In English terminology the term “teething” is used idiomatically to describe increasing pain and problems occurring in the early stages of an activity. In Greece, we say to someone “are you teething?” meaning that he/she is grumbling!
The fact that a child is “teething” is a perfectly normal developmental milestone. The coexistence of other physiological processes during the time period of teeth emergence makes the interpretation of various symptoms extremely difficult. Symptoms such as whining, restlessness, crying, salivation, fever, diarrhea, which are often attributed to the appearance of teeth, must be evaluated in each case and in each infant individually.
Furthermore, after the age of 6 months, the salivary glands develop in the infant, resulting in overproduction of saliva and therefore if the infant has not yet learned to swallow lead to increased salivation. At the same time, his inability to understand the sense of permanence of objects makes him restless, especially at night when he wakes up crying. Additionally, the protection against infections provided by maternal antibodies during the first 6 months of life is weakening, while his own immune system is still immature to cope with various infections. As he gets older and starts putting things in his mouth as he crawls, his contact with various pathogens becomes more frequent, hence the likelihood of him developing some symptoms of subclinical infection such as fever and diarrhea. Sometimes, the symptoms are caused by the herpetic virus, as has been shown in laboratory detection of the virus in the saliva of babies who were teething and were restless.
The scientific recording and interpretation of the symptoms associated with the development of teething in infants is extremely difficult, since most often the symptoms are reported and recorded by mothers after the symptoms have vanished. Many studies have found that these perceptions are extremely strong.
Well-designed clinical studies with large numbers of participants have concluded that there are no specific symptoms that all together reliably predict the onset of teething. Furthermore, symptoms that can be attributed to teething are never severe, and the presence of fever (> 38.5°C) or other clinically significant symptoms are very unlikely to be caused by the appearance of teeth. In a clinical study of children admitted to hospital with symptoms attributed by parents to teething, 96% of these children were diagnosed with a serious medical problem, including a case of bacterial meningitis.
Therefore, when infants present with severe symptoms, parents and caregivers should not assume that neonatal dentition is responsible.