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Teething and pain management

We have all heard that teething is rough. That it hurts. Etc. Etc. Etc. But I did not realize:

  1. How much it hurt

  2. How often it hurt

  3. How long teething goes on

  4. The nightmare of second-guessing the safest way to soothe your child's pain

Watching your child suffer in pain day after day is truly heartbreaking. It also wears on my sanity.

If you're wondering about teething pain remedies, how often to use ibuprofen, or just looking ahead to what teething is like, keep reading.

From the age of 6 months, Charlotte was in pain from teething pretty much for two weeks straight and then not in pain for a week and then the cycle restarted and that's still going on over a year later.


I thought teething was like a thing that happened for a few months and then it was over. Well, it's been a year and it's still not over.

The internet says teething typically stops before age 3. So that's encouraging. 1 year down and only 1.5 more years to go.

When Charlotte is in pain from teething, she is like a different child. Her playful, curious, cheerful, happy disposition is replaced by a solemn, serious, sad child who pretty much just says "no" with varying degrees of force and frowning. Luckily, over the past year, we have found what has worked for her and have been able to restore her to her normal, joyous self while the teeth are coming in.

Signs and symptoms

The basic signs and symptoms the internet says are true:

  • Drooling

  • Gnawing

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Irritability or crying

  • A mild increase in body temperature

But also, for us, Charlotte would hit her face or mouth, bite furniture or bang her face on furniture, or straight up point to where we keep the Motrin and ask for "more".

When trying to determine if Charlotte is in pain, we will gently press on her gums with the pad of finger while we ask her if her teeth hurt. When she is in pain, she screams pretty immediately and squirms away.

The tell-tale foolproof sign for us was also if she would not eat. If she was skipping meals no matter what we offered her, we knew she was in too much pain to eat at all.

Non-medical tips

Here are some remedies we found to be helpful in order of age in when they were successful.

Cold spoon. Before Charlotte was eating solids routinely, this remedy really worked for us. I had an insulated cup filled with ice and had 2 metal spoons sitting inside getting cold. I would give Charlotte the spoon to suck on and gnaw on and then swap it with the other spoon every few minutes so that the other spoon in the rotation was getting cold while she used the other one.

Frozen washcloths dipped in chamomile. I would brew chamomile tea and dip a few washcloths in the liquid. Then I would roll the washcloths tightly, put each one in a separate baggie, and freeze them. You do want to be sure to roll them fairly tightly so that they aren't too wide to fit in their mouth. I also do recommend storing them separately so that they don't freeze together in the same bag.

Frozen breastmilk. This one especially came in handy as Charlotte was consuming less and less breastmilk. If her teeth were really bothering her, it was challenging to get her to eat anything, so the frozen breastmilk would soothe her gums and also get her the nutrients she needed.

Haakaa Baby Silicone Feeder. This thing is pretty awesome, and we used it regularly for several months. At first, I would put mushed banana or blueberries and then cover it with coconut milk in the mold and freeze it. Then eventually, I just mashed in as much banana would fit and just freeze it like that. It is a cool idea because it is shaped like a pacifier, the rubber ring also is cold and soothing to chew, and it prevents any large chunks or seeds or anything from coming through. So when the child is just starting on solids, it is a really safe option.

Popsicles. You can find some healthy all-fruit popsicle options, but any popsicle, sorbet, or ice cream will do. We also learned a handy tip from my mother-in-law to fill popsicle molds with Pedialyte and that is by far a fan favorite.

Warm liquids. Again, when Charlotte did not want to eat, it was very frustrating trying to find something we could convince her to consume. Miso broth concentrate with crumbled up hard-boiled egg was the go-to primary meal for Charlotte for a good 5 months. It sounds a bit gross, but it was healthy, easy, and we were desperate. She was also happy to eat Ramen broth and probably any type of broth would have worked.

Frozen foods. Once your little one is eating solids regularly, you can get pretty creative with frozen foods. Frozen pancakes, waffles, mangoes, and blueberries all worked at least a few times for us and I also have several friends who swear by it.

Medical options

Motrin. I can probably delete the rest of the blog post and just say, if your child is in pain, give them Motrin. Motrin is by far the most effective treatment we have experienced. It really is like flipping a switch, Charlotte is back to her normal, happy self 15-20 minutes after her dose. She's already calmer after taking it, knowing relief is on the way.

I have dealt with a lot of insecurity and guilt over Motrin. It seems rather taboo or irresponsible to give your child medication regularly. Other moms, friends, family, and doctors can all be a bit judgey about it. Those in my circle tend to make a lot of comments like, "We don't give it all the time, unless when it's really bad."

Or, "You definitely don't want to use it all the time, but definitely you can use it sparingly."

Or, "If you have a break between when you're giving it, that's good."

Okay....but how often is it 'really bad'? How much is 'sparingly'? How long of a 'break between when you're giving it' do you need?

A lot of those questions I tried to ask at our pediatrician's office and instead of answers, was asked different questions that spiraled the conversation in a different direction. Of course you want to be safe and listen to your medical professionals, but also use your best judgement. As my husband reminds me, advice from friends, family, and even our pediatrician is general guidance. We as our child's parents have to use our best judgement to apply the general advice to our specific child and what works for her.

So, here's what has worked for her.

When we can tell she is for sure in pain, we give her Motrin.

We try to rule out other potential reasons why she might be upset (make sure she's not uncomfortable, not hungry, not bored, etc.). But if she won't eat because she is in pain, we just go right to Motrin. Otherwise, the snowball effect happens quickly: She's in too much pain to eat, she's too hungry to sleep, she's too tired to do anything...

Most of the time while she is in pain, we are doing 2 doses of Motrin in a day instead of the maximum 4 amount allotted.

If we do use the 4 doses in a day, I keep track of how many days in a row we are using that dosage and try to limit it to around 4 days, but a maximum of 14 days which is the maximum amount doctors recommend.

On days she seems to be at the tail end or done with the pain, if she is doing okay without the Motrin, we try to go at least 24 hours without any medication so that her body can reset.

But, we have used it a lot.

In the past year, we have probably gone through 20 bottles of Infant's Motrin Concentrated Drops.

Alternating Motrin and Tylenol. As a general rule, Tylenol didn't really seem to work for Charlotte. But, if your child is in inconsolable pain, or has a fever that doesn't go away after Motrin, you can alternate Motrin and Tylenol.

The basic idea is that Motrin and Tylenol have different active ingredients, so they can be used concurrently. You can dispense Motrin every 6 hours and Tylenol every 4 hours. So, you can kind of bridge the time so that one has kicked in before the other has worn off.

Here is an example of timing:

  • 8am Motrin

  • 11am Tylenol

  • 2pm Motrin

  • 3pm Tylenol

  • 8pm Motrin

Definitely follow the dosing from your pediatrician, but a helpful hint: I only memorized the dosing for Motrin and Tylenol was double the Motrin dosing amount.

Teething gel. Dr. Talbot's All Natural Teething Gel and Orajel Baby Daytime & Nighttime Cooling Gels For Teething also helped. They were not sufficient enough to be used exclusively for our child, but it did help dull the pain almost immediately to offer some relief until medication kicked in. I would rub it directly on her gums rather than applying it to a massager because Charlotte just sucked it off and swallowed it.

Final thoughts

Teething may seem like just a natural, unfortunate part of growing up that every kid has to deal with, but watching my child suffer is pretty intolerable.

Teething is supposed to be quite painful and if you see the gums when teeth are coming in, it does not look fun. But only your child actually knows how much it hurts, so you can't rationalize the pain away.

I also think there are repercussions to not treating pain. "Untreated pain causes anxiety, depression, irritability and exhaustion. Pain can also cause problems with eating and sleeping. Pain may cause children to act in “babyish” ways. Pain causes changes in the brain that make future pain worse. Pain can slow healing, disrupt treatment and may cause medical problems." That study is not specifically talking about teething pain, but I think the principle still applies, even if it is not to that extent. I can't imagine being in intense pain 1-2 weeks per month for 2.5 years and just having to suffer through it.

Hopefully, some of this information can help you make the right decision for your child. You will need to adapt your pain management treatment plan probably many times over as your child grows. Also, following our plan blindly probably won't work for your child. These are just tips and recommendations based on our experience, you will have to try them out on your own to discover what works best for your child.

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