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Teething vs. Illness: How to Tell the Difference

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WebMD Health News

April 10, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Pediatricians and parents have long disagreed on which of a child's symptoms are caused by teething and which symptoms could indicate a serious illness.

A new study helps confirm what the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has said, that fevers greater than 102°F should not be attributed to any tooth problem, including teething. It also helps dispel worldwide folk beliefs that diarrhea is associated with teething.

"Before caregivers attribute any infants' signs or symptoms of a potentially serious illness to teething, other possible causes must be ruled out," says lead author Michael L. Macknin, MD, of the department of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. His paper appears in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Macknin and colleagues followed 125 babies ages 3 to 6 months for eight months. During the period, parents kept a daily log that included their child's temperatures, tooth eruptions, and a checklist of 18 symptoms. All illnesses, medications, and immunizations were also recorded.

The teething period was defined as the eight-day period beginning four days before a tooth comes through the gum and extending three days afterward.

Of the infants who completed the study, more than 35% had no symptoms during their eight-day teething periods, says Macknin. Others had decreased appetite for solid foods, biting, drooling, ear rubbing, gum rubbing, irritability, rash on face, sucking, and abnormal temperature and wakefulness. Biting, drooling, gum rubbing, irritability, and sucking occurred with greater frequency during teething.

Elevated temperature -- but less than 102°F -- was an indicator of teething, but only the day before and the day that the tooth actually came through the gum.

Noting that many people believe teething can cause diarrhea, Macknin says his group found only a weak association between the two.

After reviewing the study, Zuhair Sayany, DMD, assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia, tells WebMD the study shows that many symptoms thought to be caused by teething may actually instead be caused by a serious illness. Sayany is also on staff at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Rachel Berger, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, tells WebMD she was glad to see a teething study of a large group of infants. "It's an important study. This study showed that there is no association [between teething and diarrhea and fevers]."

Her advice: "Parents should pay attention to any serious symptoms, any temperature greater than 102°F, especially in a little baby, and other symptoms such as cough, runny nose, decreased urine output, vomiting, [because] those are not associated with teething," she says. "If kids are not acting themselves, are really acting sick, parents need to bring kids to the doctor. Severe diarrhea [and] temps greater than 102°F are not caused by teething and they should give their doctor a call."

Vital Information:

 

  • Researchers have completed a new study to determine exactly which symptoms can be attributed to teething, and which may have a more serious cause.
  • Elevated temperature (up to 102°F), biting, drooling, gum rubbing, irritability, and sucking all were more common among babies who were teething.
  • Temperatures above 102°F and diarrhea were not associated with teething, and caregivers should not dismiss these symptoms.

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

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American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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