Babies experience many developmental phases that impact their temperament, eating habits, and of course, their sleep. Teething is one of the toughest baby phases that my kids went through, and it impacted my youngest son's already almost non-existent nighttime sleep in a huge way. It was rough. I knew what was going on, but I felt almost powerless to stop it. I tried teething rings, topical gels, homeopathic remedies — you name it, I tried it. What I didn't have at the time were a bevy of experts giving me ideas for nighttime teething remedies that really work.
"Teething pain is worse at night, since when you're laying down, if you have tissue that is inflamed in the mouth, it will throb and be more painful since more blood gets to it in a horizontal position," says Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of AsktheDentist.com and author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox. "This is similar to a person recovering from wisdom tooth extractions." Ouch!
Dr. Suzy Tavana, AAPD National Spokesperson and President of the California Society of Pediatric Dentistry, explains that children may be more prone to feeling this type of pain at night due to how tired they are. "Teething becomes more intense at night because children feel the symptoms of pain and discomfort most acutely when they have fewer distractions, and are exhausted," she says.
My own kids are no longer teething babies (although we're dealing with some big kid molars right now and those are no joke either), but the tried and true advice of these dental experts is invaluable to any parent currently slogging through sleepless nights with a teething baby.
1. Cool Washcloths Are Your New BFF
"Parents may be able to provide relief from the discomfort of teething by letting their baby chew on a cold, wet washcloth," says Dr. Benjamin Dancygier of Valley Pediatric Dentistry.
This was a trick I used with my kids that seemed to work rather well. I kept a baggie filled with damp washcloths in my refrigerator for a solid few years it seems until both boys were out of the teething phase.
Dr. Tavana also recommends using a cool washcloth to rub your baby's gums, but does caution parents to make sure you are using a clean washcloth each time. "You may place the wet washcloth in the freezer first, but wash it before using it again."
2. Use Your Fingers
"Parents can apply pressure on the sore gums with a clean finger and massage the sore gums," says Dr. Dancygier. Obviously, wash your hands first, but this method of relief is quick and easy making it ideal for use at night when you and your baby are both exhausted.
3. Chew On Teethers
"Give your baby a firm rubber teething ring to chew on. Avoid liquid-filled teething rings, or any plastic objects that might break," says Dr. Tavana.
You can also chill these types of teething objects in order to provide a soothing coolness for babies gums. "Babies can be given a chilled teething ring, spoon or pacifier, to provide cool relief to sore gums," says Dr. Dancygier. "It is not recommended to give babies frozen teething rings, which are too cold for a baby’s mouth." Make sure any teethers you choose are free of BPA, PVC and phthalates, like the Soft Silicone Baby Teethers from Perry Mackin, pictured above ($10, Perry Mackin). The multi-textured surfaces are perfect for gnawing on, and they're easy for little hands to grip.
4. Feed Chilled Foods
"Feed your child cool, soft foods such as applesauce or yogurt, if your baby is eating solids," says Dr. Tavana. This tip may work better in the daytime, but when desperation hits, it is one way to get babies to feel some relief.
Dr. Burhenne recommends allowing babies to gnaw on a mesh feeder to help alleviate teething pain. "A mesh feeder (like the Munchkin Fresh Mesh Food Feeder) can be purchased to give some relief." I had success using chilled foods like bananas and strawberries in these types of feeders with my kids when they were teething babies.
5. Use A Bottle (If Your Baby Will Take One)
My boys were bottle fed by the time they were teething and aside from their typical nighttime feedings, having a bottle at night (even when they weren't actually drinking) seemed to soothe them. "Use a bottle, if it seems to help, but only fill it with water," says Dr. Tavana. "Formula, milk, or juice can all cause tooth decay."
6. Swipe Away Slobber
One of the biggest issues I noticed with my oldest son and teething was the insane amount of drool he produced. It caused these weird little rashes around his mouth that I'm sure were quite irritating while he slept. Dr. Dancygier says that "drool can be wiped off the baby’s chin and cheeks to prevent skin irritation."
7. Avoid Teething Gels
"To help with the pain, many parents are desperate to find relief quickly, but I discourage the use of Ambisol. It's chemical ridden and tastes terrible so your children will not want it either," says Dr. Burhenne.
Aside from the taste and the chemicals in these gels, Dr. Tavana explains why these types of topical ointments are not your best option for teething pain. "Topical pain relievers and medications that are rubbed on the gums are not necessary, or even useful, because they wash out of the baby’s mouth within minutes. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discourages the use of over-the-counter topical medications for teething pain, because some of them can be harmful," she says.
8. Ask About Analgesics
When constant teething pain is keeping your baby up all night, it might be time to call your pediatrician and ask about using over-the-counter pain relief. "Parents can consult with their baby’s pediatrician for dosing of Infant Tylenol or ibuprofen for teething pain," says Dr. Dancygier.
But, Dr. Tavana does warn that if analgesics don't seem to be working for teething pain, to look into why this might be, since teething can cause a myriad of other systemic issues. "When teething is associated with a fever, gastric symptoms (i.e. diarrhea), or when the child is inconsolable and analgesics in normal doses don't help, it is best to consult your pediatrician," she says.