Teething may not be the reason behind baby’s high fever, researchers are now arguing, urging parents to pay more attention to other symptoms that may signal the presence of a more life-threatening condition.
The findings were presented in the journal Pediatrics, on the heels of a study conducted by Dr. Paul Casamassimo, professor of pediatric dentistry at Ohio State University.
The purpose was to investigate common manifestations triggered by teething, which usually debuts when the infant is about 6 months old, but can also begin at any given moment, between the age of 3 months and 12 months.
Teething, during which the first milk teeth slowly break through the gums and gradually emerge, normally continues up until the age of 3, when the baby finally exhibits a full set of 20 primary teeth.
Given that infants can only express what’s bothering them non-verbally, by crying, refusing food or failing to fall asleep, parents usually have to do plenty of guesswork trying to pinpoint their offspring’s source of discomfort.
Maybe that’s why scientists have been preoccupied with the signs associated with teething for millennia, Hippocrates describing such manifestations in the 4th century B.C. According to the Greek physician known as the “Father of Western Medicine”, teething usually occurs in conjunction with gum itching, diarrhea, seizures and fever.
Study authors have recently tested these allegations and other long-held beliefs regarding teething, and have come to the conclusion that the emergence of primary teeth usually makes itself felt through symptoms such as irritability, trouble sleeping, drooling, inflamed and enlarged gums, appetite loss or difficulty eating.
Other commonly encountered signs that baby teeth may be erupting from the gums are gastrointestinal issues (vomiting, diarrhea, nausea) and skin problems (rashes).
Such manifestations usually last bout 3 to 5 days, occurring intermittently, in short bursts, although they may appear much more long-lasting to distressed and alarmed parents.
On the other hand, researchers have discovered that while teething may cause body temperature to increase, this value never actually reaches 101 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
Instead, overly high fever, wrongly believed to be just one of the usual signs that mark the emergence of baby teeth, may actually be triggered by completely different factors.
As Casamassimo explains, when the baby’s body temperature is excessively elevated, when pain and discomfort appear unusually high, or when food or drinks are rejected for longer periods of time, parents should take into account that teething may not be to blame after all.
The same viewpoint is also shared by Minu George, interim chief of pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center from New York. According to him, fever encountered among babies shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed as a harmless symptom connected to teething, because it may actually be caused by another more serious infection.
As a result, it should be further investigated, and immediate care from a pediatrician should be sought, in order to ensure that the actual ailment causing these symptoms is identified and promptly addressed.
This way, it might be possible to reduce infant mortality rates, by ensuring that more life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia or meningitis are diagnosed early enough and combated before they turn deadly.
If fever is proven to be linked to teething after all, there are a few steps that could be taken in order to alleviate the baby’s discomfort. For example, chilled chew toys could be provided, such as frozen foods, teething rings, pacifiers or washcloths that have been refrigerated, teething blankets etc.
Pain medication could also be used, but with great caution, given that some drugs of this kind such as paracetamol (acetaminophen) have been associated with liver disease or dental decay.
Local anesthetics that contain lidocaine should also be avoided, since side-effects include convulsions, disorientation, impaired vision, nausea, vomiting, slowed breathing and unconsciousness.
Similarly, benzocaine-based medicine shouldn’t be administered, because it can trigger methemoglobinemia, an often fatal condition marked by overly low amounts of oxygen in the tissues.
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