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Teeth and Sleep...Can They Really Go Together?

Teething gets blamed for a lot of things and mostly sleep. Whilst teething can and does cause a lot of pain I am going to discuss the ins and outs of it and what it really means in terms of sleep disruption and what we can do to ease it.

FUN FACT … 1% of babies are born with a tooth!

Around 6 weeks after conception the cells in your baby’s gums start to form, when your baby is born those cells have hardened and will have taken shape as a tooth just under the gums, they will become the sharp pearly whites on a day in the not too distant future.

Did you know, a research paper released by The University of Leeds found that did back in the 1800’s teething was listed as a cause for death! 4% of infant deaths in 1142 were attributed to teething. And it was still listed as a cause of death up until as recent as 1979 in England. That is only 41 years ago, very recent.

This as we know is just absurd but what we do know is that teething is the cause for pain, disrupted sleep and a few days of unsettledness, usually around 3-8 days. It is one thing that always comes up with my clients that teething has been disrupting sleep, should we wait a while before starting any sleep shaping?

Now while teething may be absolute a cause for disruption in the night it is not usually the whole cause for night waking’s. Of course there are some babies out there that do suffer badly from teething and you may see a spot of blood on the sheets in the morning when you get them up or in their drool.

​If you have any concerns please visit a dentist to put your mind at rest. Often this blood comes from a blister on the gums that has been pierced by the tooth.

Here I will help you understand more about your child’s pearly white issues...

Signs of teething,

  • Slight raise in temperature

  • Excessive drooling

  • Bottom rash

  • Diarrhoea

  • Red gums.

  • Ear ache

  • Red/sore cheeks

Let’s take a closer look into each of these. The Excessive Drooling Saliva Glands start to kick in around the same time the antibodies are working overtime. Why? Around 6 months your baby’s body is getting ready for solids, and in its very clever way starts to produce more saliva to break down the food. You baby’s body needs certain enzymes to break down the food and digest it. THE RED BUM/RASH If we look at research and the science behind it is most likely (but not gospel) caused by something else other than teething. How do we know this?

  • They say saliva leads to more acidic stools

  • PH levels of our stomach is 1.5 – 3.5 this is very acidic

  • PH level of saliva is 6.2 – 7.6 which is pretty neutral or on the more alkaline side

  • If we consumed enough saliva our stools could be alkaline

  • It is the acid in the saliva that turns the bottom red, “due to the teething”…

  • But surely your child’s mouth would be burning, but it is not, it is neutral…

Diarrhoea This is more likely to be a virus or something else other than teeth but may come from the PH levels in the saliva and extra saliva being produced. Red Gums Of course when those pearly whites are ready to pop through the will be putting some pressure on the gums underneath. The body releases a chemical that cause the gums to become softer, less dense and so the tooth can pop up. The red gums will turn whitish in colour so be on the lookout for a white nub under the gum, this will be the final stage before you see that tooth pop through or even feel a tiny little prick as you pass your finger over your baby’s gums. Blood pressure During the night our body is relaxed, and blood pressure is lower. Therefore any pain felt will be less due to the lower blood pressure. Ear Pulling and Cheek Rubbing Did you know gums have the same nerve pathways as cheeks and ears, so this can lead to discomfort in areas of the face, hence why you may see your baby pull at her ears or rub her cheeks? Her cheeks my look a little redder or even feel a little flushed. Now of course many babies don’t even shed a tiny sign that they have a tooth on the way and you may just ride thought this transition with ease and not notice anything until you feel a little nip on the morning feed or on your finger as you have a root around!

Teething is not always nocturnal so look out for an unusually distressed baby during the day, clingy and irritable, inspect those gums, can you see swollen gums, a white nub about to piece through, won’t let you touch them?

Teething begins around the time of lower immune function. This is because your baby is moving from what is known as “passive” to “active” immunity. Your baby’s antibodies that she received from you are now reducing and they are having to work hard by making themselves!

This happens right around the time your baby starts to move a lot more, rolling around, playing with more toys, picking things up and putting then in her mouth… she is exploring and learning and that is what babies do, everything goes in the mouth right!

Some props you can offer that will help ease and numb the pain

  • A frozen banana to gnaw on

  • Take a wet muslin, wring it out and tie in a knot and freeze. Again a great way to numb pain by having a good chomp on that!

  • Ashton and Parsons teething powders

  • Teething necklace that you can wear and look fabulous in but also is something for your baby to gnaw on when you are in the coffee shop with friends or out at a local baby class

  • Sugar free paracetamol and ibuprofen

  • Protect her mouth and chin area with a little Vaseline or Pawpaw ointment

Time line of tooth appearances

Now don’t take all this as gospel as we know every child is different but generally speaking we can see a pattern of teeth making an appearance in this order…

  1. Central incisors 6-9 months

  2. Lateral incisors 9-12 months

  3. First molars 14-18 months

  4. Canines 18-23 months

  5. Second molars 26-33 months

By the time your baby is around 2 years old they will probably have all 20 teeth, Now that said, every baby is different and some as my best friend from school found with her son, his first tooth popped up at the age of 2 years and my other great friends daughter had her lateral incisors at 9 months but no central teeth, we do have a little giggle as she does resemble a little mini vampire!

Now your little one has a tooth you will need to take care of it. Many parents wonder what they can use to brush those pearly whites and many babies HATE that toothbrush and toothpaste coming anyway near them. There are many products on the high street shelves, so look for a very soft bristle brush with a starter toothpaste. Some babies many even prefer you to use your finger with a finger brush.

Certainly my daughter was one for not wanting anyone to come near her so often when we were out in the buggy going for a walk I would give her toothbrush with a little toothpaste on it for her to chew on and suck. 1 nil to Mum!

If in any doubt on what is best ask your dentist or local pharmacist for advice. This information is not to be substituted with a professional dentist or doctor.

Don’t forget to share this article with a friend you know who may find it of some use for the next coffee morning you see each other!

Peaceful night to you all,


Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant



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