Teething is when a baby's teeth begin to push through the gums. These teeth begin to appear as early as three months of age in humans, or as late as a year. It can take a few years for the entire first set of teeth to appear, though it is often complete within one or two years. Occasionally an infant will be born with one or more teeth already protruding from the gums, but this is no cause for alarm.
Though the order in which teeth appear during teething differs from person to person, it tends to follow a general pattern. The first teeth to appear are nearly always the central incisors, those two teeth in the center of the mouth on the bottom. The top central and lateral incisors appear next, which are the four central top teeth. Next come the bottom lateral incisors, the two teeth on either side of the bottom central incisors. Then the basic molars, in the back of the jaw. And lastly, the eye teeth, the pointed teeth on the top. Most infants have twenty baby, or milk, teeth in all.
Female infants tend to begin teething at a slightly earlier age than males, but the difference is negligible, usually no more than a few months between siblings who share two parents. During teething, infants may experience a considerable amount of discomfort and pain, which leads to a high level of irritability. Other infants may have virtually no discomfort and make it through the entire teething process without exhibiting any signs of pain whatsoever. Slightly increased temperatures are common when teeth are breaking through the gums, but should not create feverish states, and any surprising shifts in temperature should be looked at by a physician.
While babies are teething they tend to drool a lot, and it is important to wipe the drool clean regularly to make sure no rashes develop. While teething, most infants also like to chew on things to help alleviate the discomfort caused by swollen gums. It is best to have teething toys or aids available to ensure that your favorite socks don't become impromptu teething cloths! Dampening a washcloth and putting it in a freezer for fifteen minutes to half an hour makes a wonderful teething aid, and a number of commercial teething rings which may be partially frozen are also available.
Even before the first teeth appear, brushing should begin. The gums should be brushed softly with water. Once teeth begin appearing, brushing with only water should continue. Even though these teeth will fall out before long, allowing them to decay can cause gaps which will lead to future problems, as permanent teeth squeeze in to try to fill the gaps and leave the mouth an orthodontic nightmare. Once the child is old enough to spit out toothpaste, brushing may begin to incorporate toothpaste as well as water.
While the term teething refers to the process of the teeth breaking through the gums, in the common vernacular it may also be used to describe the tendency on infants and the young of other species to chew on whatever is handy while they are going through the teething process.