Caregivers of infants know that teething, the period of time when a baby’s primary set of teeth protrude through the gums, can be uncomfortable for children. There are several different methods to soothe the pain of teething, and one of the easiest and most common is to give the child a teether to chew on. A teether is any safe object used by the baby to chew on, providing temporary relief from teething pain. Teethers come in a variety of materials, shapes, colors, levels of effectiveness and safety.
Children typically begin the teething process between three and 12 months of age, and for most children, the first tooth emerges at around six months. The primary teeth slowly break through the skin of the gums, which can cause uncomfortable pressure and pain for the child. While some children seem to be unaffected, common symptoms of teething pain include excess saliva or drooling, fussiness, refusal to eat or drink due to mouth pain, low-grade fever, and an increased tendency to chew on fingers and any object the baby can put in the mouth. This is why dedicated teethers are very useful in soothing a teething baby.
While teethers can be a simple household object, like a cold damp washcloth, a large wooden spoon, or frozen fruit in a mesh bag, there are a huge variety of teething toys sold commercially. Some teethers come in brightly colored plastics and rubbers to motivate the baby to reach for them, while also enabling hand-eye coordination. Other teethers come in natural materials, like wood and organic cottons, to reduce the baby’s exposure to chemicals. Many infant products, including teethers, are being sold and marketed as having no bisphenol-A or BPA, a chemical often found in plastics that may be toxic. Teethers filled with gels or liquids other than water are thought by some to be dangerous, as many of these substances have been found to be toxic and can carry dangerous bacteria.
As babies go through the different stages of teething, their teether needs change. When they first begin to teethe, babies need teethers that are softer in order to keep their tender gums safe from bruising. Teethers filled with distilled water that have been refrigerated, or cloth teethers may work well for this stage. To avoid injuring developing gums, it is recommended that teethers never be placed in the freezer. A teether should never be small enough for a baby to accidentally swallow or choke on.
Once teeth emerge, a rubber or textured teether may work well for massaging the gums around these new teeth. These teethers tend to be flatter and have bumpy surfaces for babies to bite down on. It is very important to always check a teether for damage, to prevent the baby from choking on chewed-off pieces, and frequent cleaning and sanitizing of teethers is crucial to prevent the spread of bacteria.