New parent? Then you know just how many questions come with your little bundle of joy. From wondering how often to feed to choosing the right car seat, it can seem like there are more questions than answers. And just when you think you've figured it out, along comes teething or the first infant ear infection.
When your son or daughter gets fussy, how do you know if it's just teething or something more serious? Can an ear infection affect your baby's health? Consider these and similar issues in this easy dental primer:
Is It Teething or an Ear Infection?
One of the reasons parents often associate teething with ear infections is because the symptoms are so similar. Either way, one of the first signs of an issue is fussiness: Your baby might seem uncomfortable, wake more in the night or pull at his ears. Although ear infections and teething share symptoms, there are a few that allow you to tell the two apart. According to pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears, teething starts around four months of age, may cause a low-grade fever (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), but will not cause a runny nose. Ear infections often cause higher fevers, a runny nose and other cold-like symptoms – along with ear pain. Watch your baby's behavior to gauge whether the fussiness comes from an oral issue or ear infection.
Does Teething Cause Ear Infections?
Because ear infections are primarily caused by bacteria, according to Dr. Sears, you can rest easy when you notice those first teeth making their appearance in your baby's gummy grin: There is no proven correlation between teething and ear infections. Whereas the symptoms might seem similar, they are mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, because they are both common first-year health issues, the two are often associated with one another.
Is Your Baby's Pacifier to Blame?
If your little one loves his pacifier, you might want to rethink the habit, especially as it affects oral and ear health. The Mayo Clinic warns that using a pacifier can increase the chance of both ear infections and dental problems in babies. It's OK to use a pacifier in the first few months of life, but consider discontinuing its use after your baby's first teeth start to emerge; a pacifier can eventually cause tooth misalignment.
How Can You Help?
If your baby is pulling at his ears, acting fussy or refusing to sleep and eat regularly, you'll need to decide whether an infant ear infection or teething is to blame. If you suspect an ear infection (cold-like symptoms are a dead giveaway), contact your pediatrician. Your baby may need antibiotics to help get rid of the infection.
If you're confident your baby is indeed just teething, you'll still need to address the pain to help your little one stay comfortable. Try dipping the corner of a washcloth in water, and freezing it to create a simple and effective teething ring. Babies with sore gums can also benefit from dental massage, suggests Mayo Clinic, so grab a soft-bristled infant brush like My First Colgate™ and massage the gums with some water or fluoride-free toothpaste.
In both cases, ibuprofen can be used to reduce swelling and discomfort; just make sure to check the package directions for dosing. Teething and ear infections are common parts of your baby's first year, though they're generally unrelated. By working with your pediatrician, you can address both issues for your baby and make for a happy, healthy early childhood.