WEDNESDAY, Aug. 10, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- If a baby is cranky, drooling and running a fever, teething often gets the blame.
But a new study finds that while a baby's temperature rises slightly on the day he or she actually cuts a tooth, fever is not a symptom of teething -- though the drooling and crankiness can be.
"There was no association between fever and the eruption of primary teeth," said study author Joana Ramos-Jorge, a doctoral student at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil. "This result surprised me because, like much of the population, I also believed that a fever could be a sign of tooth eruption."
And though babies are more prone to symptoms such as irritability, sleep disturbances and increased salivation on the day the day tooth erupts and the day after, researchers could not tell which babies were about to cut a tooth based on those symptoms the day before, according to the study in the September issue of Pediatrics.
Babies typically cut their first tooth (usually the bottom two front teeth) when they're 4 months to 7 months old. A month or two later, the four upper teeth usually begin to make their appearance, and most kids have all the primary teeth by age 3, experts said.
To pinpoint the signs and symptoms of teething, Brazilian dentists tracked 47 babies aged 5 months to 15 months for eight months.
On the day of the eruption, kids were more likely to have a runny nose, diarrhea, a rash, poor appetite and to be irritable, drool/have increased salivation and sleep poorly.
Babies' temperatures also tended to rise a few tenths of a percent on the day the tooth broke through and the day after (to about 98.24 degrees Fahrenheit/36.98 degrees Celsius).
But that's still well within the normal range, said Dr. Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
"I've seen a lot of parents that will come in with children with fevers of 101 degrees or higher, and first thing they say is, 'It might just be teething'," Samuels said. "I want to educate parents that teething has never been proven to be related to high-grade temperatures."
There can be big variations among children in how they cope with cutting a tooth, Samuels said. "Some children are more tolerant of the discomfort and sail right through it. Some have a really hard time with every tooth that breaks through their gums," she said.
To ease the pain, try chilled (not frozen) rubber teething rings or toys, or letting your child chew on a clean, wet washcloth that's been cooled in the freezer for a half-hour.
If your child is really having difficulty sleeping, parents can occasionally give acetaminophen (such as Infant's Tylenol), Samuels said.
She advises parents to stay away from over-the-counter teething gels or numbing creams because of reports of rare cases in which children have had serious reactions to the benzocaine in the gels.
Nemours has more on teething.