Parental Myths About Infant Teething Are Widespread

Nov. 4, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Infant teething is distressing and poorly understood, according to a study in a recent Journal of Pediatric and Child Health. Researchers found that as many as 55% of parents falsely believe teething can cause serious illnesses such as ear infections and diarrhea. These symptoms, which can be signs of serious illness, can therefore go untreated if parents simply think teething is the cause.

The study was conducted at a suburban health center in Australia. About 100 parents, of a broad demographic mix, were invited to complete a questionnaire as their infants received a state-sponsored hearing exam. The questionnaire asked parents about their experiences with teething and their methods to relieve teething symptoms.

The study revealed that symptoms reported by parents correlated closely with symptoms generally associated with teething. Most parents reported that teething can cause pain, irritability, sleep disturbance, biting, drooling, red cheeks, and fever. However, many parents reported that teething can cause loose stools, colds, and ear infections. Fever was most often described as low-grade, although some reported that teething can cause high fever.

Regardless of their education and parenting experience, the parents associated teething with minor illness, but there is little evidence to support this belief. In fact, research suggests that the symptoms reported are not at all related to teething. Melissa Wake, MD, the chief investigator and Clinical Research Coordinator at Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, tells WebMD that "we really need to educate parents so they are less likely to associate teething with fever and diarrhea because, when prolonged, they are markers of serious illness."

This view has the support of an American researcher as well. In a study of pediatricians, Jeannine Coreil, PhD, professor of community and family health at the University of South Florida, found that one-third of the physicians surveyed believed that teething is associated with diarrhea. Coreil tells WebMD, "It's no wonder parents are confused. We need to begin using the same approach as the World Health Organization. That is, teach folks how to evaluate the severity of symptoms in terms of their onset, frequency, and duration. If parents can do that, they'll be prepared to troubleshoot more effectively."

Wake says educating parents about managing teething symptoms is equally important and may have lasting benefits for parents and children. For this reason, a second phase of the study is now underway. "We're surveying child health professionals to determine what symptoms are truly attributable to teething and how they can best be managed, says Wake. Our aim is to develop accessible information for parents that is easy to understand and based in fact."