What to do when babies are teething

A baby’s smile is adorable – especially with their first little teeth showing. But when the milk teeth arrive, pain is common too. Here, you can find out which symptoms occur with a baby’s first teeth and what can help your baby while teething.

13.09.2023 Sarah Schumacher 3 minutes

Skin rash, sensitive and swollen gums, fever during teething or a sore bottom: various symptoms can occur when a baby’s first teeth start coming through. Problems sleeping, more frequent grizzling or increased saliva production are also typical signs. The teething process varies greatly from baby to baby – in terms of symptoms, when it starts, how long it lasts or how intense it is.

When do babies start teething?

Often, a baby’s first set of teeth start coming through when they are 6 to 8 months old. For some it starts earlier, for others later. The two lower milk incisors are usually the first to show. A child has their full set of milk teeth when they are about 2.5 to 3 years old; this is 20 milk teeth in total. 

Milk teeth coming through

Before the first tooth comes through, parents often notice a bulging of their baby’s gums. Just before the milk tooth breaks through, pus may discharge from the gums, which is a very painful process for your baby. But some babies who are teething hardly notice anything at all.

Milk teeth grow in this order

The set of milk teeth gradually comes through from front to back.

What helps when babies are teething?

The process of the milk teeth coming through can be painful for babies. These tips will help parents and caregivers ease little ones’ discomfort:

  • Cool flannel or teething ring
  • Anti-inflammatory teas containing chamomile or sage
  • Massage the gums gently (using a herbal teething gel, for example)
  • A reflexology foot massage or globules (small pellets) can also help

When do milk teeth fall out?

Milk teeth have an important function. They help provide space for the teeth that follow and ensure that these larger permanent teeth, which form underneath the milk teeth, can grow through healthily. Some children lose their first milk teeth when they’re just 4 years old. For most children, the new incisors and molars come through when they’re between 6 and 9 years old. Generally, all a child’s milk teeth will have fallen out by the time they are 13 years old.

How dangerous are cavities for milk teeth?

If a milk tooth doesn’t fall out naturally and needs to be extracted early, it is very possible that the two milk teeth to the left and right of the extracted tooth will sink towards the gap. This deprives the tooth coming in after it of space, which results in it becoming misaligned. In addition, the effects of cavities on small children are not good: large cavities can cause painful abscesses to form, or treatment with anaesthetic becomes necessary. Cavities could also spread to the teeth coming through from underneath. To avoid misaligned teeth or discoloured milk teeth, parents should start early with their child’s dental care. By the way, the most common causes of cavities are drinks and food that are sweetened, as well as eating between mealtimes.

From what age should you clean your baby’s teeth?

Babies’ teeth should be looked after as soon as the very first tooth arrives. The Swiss Dental Association (SSO) reports that 10% to 17% of children already have a cavity by their third birthday. The disease in the dental tissue makes it easier for holes to form, and causes discolouration. Apart from eating a tooth-friendly diet, proper brushing is what helps to protect the first teeth in the long term.

The right way to brush milk teeth

To clean a baby’s teeth, parents can use cotton buds moistened with water for the first few months. Later on, a soft children’s toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of children’s toothpaste with a low fluoride content should be used. Baby toothbrushes are available that can also be used as a teething ring. This is a fun way for babies to try brushing their teeth.

Rule of thumb for brushing toddlers’ teeth:

  • 1 to 2 times a day until their first birthday
  • 2 times a day until their second birthday
  • from their second birthday onwards, 3 times a day

It is particularly important to brush the teeth well in the evenings; the ideal length of time is around 3 minutes. At night-time, the mouth doesn’t produce as much saliva, which naturally protects the teeth. If teeth are not brushed after a bedtime drink or snack, bacteria can spread more easily overnight. In the long run, this can lead to cavities and other diseases.

Tip – how to make brushing teeth a routine

Do you have a baby who doesn’t like having their teeth brushed? A playful approach can help to make the bedtime ritual fun. For example, you could take your child’s favourite soft toy into the bathroom with you and also brush the toy’s teeth. As children get older, music can also help: try playing songs that your child likes. If your child isn’t brushing their teeth properly, turn the music off. Only turn the music back on once they have mastered the principle of starting by cleaning the chewingsurfaces, then the outer surfaces, and finally the innersurfaces, from gums to teeth (red to white).

When is it time to start going to the dentist?

Milk teeth need special care and regular check-ups. The SSO recommends regular trips to the dentist once a child is 2 years old. The dentist checks for signs of tooth, mouth or jaw disease. These experts assess each child’s risk of getting cavities. Dentists can see from the age of 7 whether or not a child needs orthodontic treatment. If teeth are misaligned later, this not only risks hindering speech and chewing, it also has negative effects on how the teeth look and the person’s well-being.

Helsana makes a contribution towards the costs

Dental insurance enables parents to protect themselves in advance from having to pay high dental costs. Depending on which supplementary insurance is taken out, Helsana may, for example, contribute to the costs of regular dental check-ups, dental hygiene work, braces, extraction of wisdom teeth or fillings in the case of cavities. Taking out insurance for children aged up to 3 years old is possible without the need for a medical examination. 

Ronja Schoch, qualified dental assistant and care trainer

Ronja Schoch provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article. She works for the Helsana health consultation and assists customers with questions relating to dental health.


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