Is Teething Really Making My Baby Sick?

The truth about teething... Is it really making my baby sick?

“Teething” gets blamed for everything: fussy baby, inconsolable crying, sudden fever. Can teething really cause this much trouble?

Dr. Leila Denmark, history’s longest practicing Pediatrician, must have heard this diagnosis hundreds of times from her moms. What was Dr. D.’s response?

Hi, I’m Madia. I have eleven children and one of the greatest privileges of my life was to know Dr. Leila Denmark. She practiced pediatrics for over 75 years and was my mentor for 32 years.

I can hardly express how much she helped me, both with the children’s medical issues and family life challenges. I would love to share what she taught me with you.


Many generations of American women have believed in “teething” as an intermittent condition needing attention and treatment. We are told that it can cause illness, fever, excessive pain and serious irritability.

My great-grandmother, Lottie Witherspoon Bell, had baby Henry’s gums lanced by a physician to reduce what she thought was pain from teething. Dr. Denmark rejected this notion of teething. She said, “A child actually begins to teethe five months after conception and continues to do so for approximately eighteen years with no serious symptoms other than minor discomfort from erupting teeth.”

If your baby is truly sick, don’t blame it on “teething.” Look for another cause. Recently our daughter Emily mentioned slight soreness in the back of her mouth. We also noticed a small flap of skin on her gum: twelve-years molars were coming through. It’s clear that she is still teething!


When a child is uncharacteristically fussy and warm to the touch, take his temperature. If you are using a digital thermometer, consult the accompanying directions in the box.

One degree above the following readings indicates a fever:

  • under arm (97°)

  • oral (98.6°)

  • rectal (99.6°)

Fever is caused by infection. Scientists aren’t certain what it does but have observed that different germs cause fever with varying characteristics. With a strep infection, the temperature typically runs low in the morning and may even be subnormal before noon. Then it usually begins to rise, peaks at 6:00 p.m., and goes down around 2:00 a.m. Fevers accompanying flu or German measles tend to remain fairly consistent throughout the day. A fever brought on by an abscess usually drops when the abscess is opened. If your child registers an abnormal temperature, first check him for meningitis.


  1. Lay him on his back.

  2. Put a hand under the back of his neck and bend his head forward gently, bringing the chin toward the chest. A fussy child may stiffen his neck to resist examination, so calm and distract him while you check. If the neck is stiff and will not bend, take him to the hospital emergency room.

  3. Lay the child on his back.

  4. Lift his knee and try to raise the leg at a right angle from body.

If legs are very stiff, it also indicates an emergency. A bulging fontanel (soft spot) on a newborn may also indicate meningitis.

Meningitis is always an emergency. If the fever’s cause is not evident, periodically check for its symptoms. If any symptoms of meningitis are present, go immediately to the hospital.

When meningitis is ruled out, look for the following:

  • A cold

  • Swollen glands in neck under jaws

  • A throat redder than the color of his gums

  • Pulling at ears

  • Stomachache

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

If an intestinal disturbance is evident, an enema is probably in order (see Chapter Four in Dr. Denmark Said It!).

If symptoms are mild, inconclusive, and/or indicate an upper respiratory problem, the following are recommended:

  1. A hot bath. Run the shower first so the room will be warm and steamy. Dry him off and dress him in pajamas from another room so his clothing will be dry.

  2. Aspirin or other fever reducer.

  3. Bundle the child up. When he starts to perspire, usually around the back of the neck, begin taking layers off.Change wet clothing.

  4. Continue to observe the child for a rising temperature and other symptoms.

With a high fever a child has chills. Many infants and toddlers will sit in their mothers’ laps and want to be cuddled for warmth. Applying cool cloths to the child’s forehead or cool baths is not recommended. Cold baths may cause a seizure.

Diagnosing the Severity of an Illness

Every child’s reaction to infection is individual. Some typically run higher temperatures than others. One may have a low fever and be very sick, though another’s temperature may spike with the least illness.

Some have a tendency to complain intensely with the least discomfort, while others hardly complain at all, even when they are very sick. Our Leila can spike 105 degrees and still be coherent, while Steven has been delirious at 101 degrees.

You need to evaluate the child’s general behavior to determine the severity of the ailment. Observe his appetite, playfulness, and coordination in addition to his temperature, and compare his behavior to what it normally is.

Your instincts are often accurate. If you’re worried and not sure what the problem is, consult a physician. Any high or prolonged fever may indicate a need for antibiotics.


It’s easy to assume a child is well when his temperature is down in the morning. However, temperatures due to staph and strep infections characteristically drop in the morning even before true recovery.

Just because he appears well, don’t send him back to school or take him to church. Going into public too soon may pro­long illness and infect other children.

The child’s white blood cell count may be low, rendering him more susceptible to picking up something else. He should have at least two fever-free evenings before resuming his normal routine.

For more information on feeding schedules, positioning infants, sleep training and other fundamentals of childcare order your copy Dr. Denmark Said It! today.

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