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How to Tell if Your Baby is Sick or Teething

Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN

Your baby has been drooling more and chewing everything. You feel confident a tooth is about to pop through any day now. Then they spike a fever. Are they teething, sick, or both?

How to Tell if Your Baby is Sick or Teething

 There’s a popular wives’ tale that teething can cause fevers and other signs of illness. Here we break down the common symptoms of teething, other common causes of non-illness related fevers, and when it may be an illness, not teething.

How to Tell if Your Baby is Sick or Teething

Symptoms of Teething

If your little one is six months or older, chances are that if they develop a fever, a well-meaning friend or fellow parent may ask if they are teething. However, while teething comes with several symptoms, a fever is not one of them. Here are some telltale signs of teething, per Seattle Children’s:

  • More drooling
  • A facial rash may develop from the extra drooling
  • Your baby may try to chew on everything
  • Gums may be sore or painful

Anecdotally, many parents claim their children develop fevers from teething. However, infants often begin teething between 6-12 months of age. Per Seattle Children’s, this coincides with maternal antibodies (germ-fighting cells passed from the mother to baby in utero) beginning to decline.

 Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) implies that more exposure to illness can happen with the extra chewing that begins around the same time as teething. You may find your little one chewing on a high-touch, germ hot spot like the remote control.

 So, while children who are teething may experience a slight rise in body temperature, according to Nemours Children’s Health, if they have a temperature greater than 100℉, teething probably isn’t to blame.

Is your baby sick or teething?

Other Causes of Fevers

It can be easy to blame a fever on teething. However, if your child has a fever and is at an age where they may be teething (6 months or older typically), here are a few other reasons your child’s temperature may be elevated, per Nemours Children’s Health

Too many clothes: Infants don’t regulate their body temperatures as well as older kids. So, if you’ve over-bundled your little one, you could accidentally cause them to develop a temporary fever. If your infant is older than three months, you can try turning the heat down in the room or taking off a layer.

Most teething babies are older than three months. However, if your baby is three months or younger, it is crucial to have them checked out by a healthcare provider. Fevers in young infants can be due to a serious infection, and it’s best to get that ruled out ASAP.

Recent immunizations: When a baby or child receives immunizations, their immune system responds. This can result in a mild fever for about a day after vaccination.

A Word of Caution About Babies Being Sick vs. Teething

While teething can cause a slightly elevated body temperature and crankiness, it shouldn’t cause a true fever (generally 100.4℉ or greater) or inconsolable crying. The AAP explains one of the problems with blaming fevers on teething is that it can cause other infections to be missed. For example, a urinary tract infection (UTI) may also show up as a fever with crying.

According to the APP, other causes of fevers and crying in young children are meningitis and ear infections.teething baby tips

So, if you notice your little one spike a temp and seem extra fussy, consider reaching out to your healthcare provider for advice. They can advise on what steps you may be able to take at home, such as age-appropriate doses of acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (also known as Children's Motrin® and Advil®)—or they may recommend you to bring your child in to be evaluated.

 

Key Takeaways

Sick or uncomfortable kids are never fun. If your child is around the age that teething is likely and seems cranky, it could be teething—especially if you notice other signs such as extra drooling, chewing, and sore gums.

However, if your child develops a fever or is crying inconsolably, there is likely a different cause. If you are concerned, it is always ok to reach out to a healthcare provider for advice.

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 Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.

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