Teething May Be Painless!

Does Teething Actually Cause Pain? or Is It Just Herpes?

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Fun Fact Friday – WEEK 162

Teething May Be Painless!


An 8-month-old child’s mouth is clearly causing discomfort. They’re drooling, refusing solids and they’re not drinking much. Their stools are looser than normal and they have a slightly elevated temperature.

Must be teething, right?


Teething may not be causing your child any discomfort at all. The process of teething could be painless. Those symptoms could be that of another ailment. That ailment is thought to mostly affect children of teething age and is often misdiagnosed as teething.



If teething has arrived in your family or is due soon, then it could be helpful to know when each pearly white will make a break for it. That’s why we made a really easy teeth arrival chart, just for you – FOR FREEE right here.

This is our 7th instalment of our teething series. We’ve discovered when they arrive, that some babies are born with teeth and that we thought teething caused death. We’ve also shed light upon humanities quest to cure teething where we’ve boozed up our babies, given them opium, mercury, and cocaine.

Everyone from medical professionals to grandma, to “old Doris from down the road” has a list of symptoms that they believe are linked to teething. But, many fail to recognise something else that happens at a very similar time.

At around the age of 6 months old, babies begin to lose the passive immunity that they received from their mother. The immunity that their mother passed on to them at birth begins to wane. Their immune system has to start fending for itself. And it’s no coincidence that many childhood illnesses occur from this age onwards.

This is also the time when they are introduced to new foods, that can cause a raft of changes in the nappy department – many of which are blamed upon teething.

Teething can be a frustrating and trying time for many parents. But, many things that are blamed on teething that can often be something completely different. Studies back this up too and have found parents are not always aware of the true symptoms of teething.

Ask most parents what teething causes and they’ll often mention some or all of the following:

  • Fever
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • More drooling than normal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Ear-pulling

Now let’s take a look at some of the symptoms of another ailment. One that primarily affects teething age children – gingivostomatitis (Gin gee voe stoe meh ty tus)

  • Fever over 38ºC (100ºF)
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • More drooling than normal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Bad breath

Wow, those lists are pretty similar!

The ear pulling and diarrhoea can pretty much be explained by other things.

Take ear pulling for instance. Ear pulling could be a sign of a blocked ear, an ear infection or, simply a new discovery (What the hell is this thing on the side of my head?).

Diarrhoea can easily be explained by the age at which this starts – 6 months. This is the time when most babies start solid foods. With an ever-evolving digestive system that’s encountering new foods, is it any wonder some of those foods will be too much? Or that they can get too much of a good thing?

What is gingivostomatitis?

Gingivostomatitis is sometimes known as Herpetic Gingivostomatitis, Herpetic Stomatitis or Herpes Gingivostomatitis. This is because about 90% of cases are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1). It primarily occurs in those between 6 months and 5 years old, with a high prevalence before the age of 3. HSV1 is the cause of cold sores and is often the first exposure that a child has to the herpes virus.

Herpetic gingivostomatitis is easily spread and the best prevention is to avoid close contact with those infected. The guidance suggests that children shouldn’t kiss, or share food, drink, utensils or toys with an infected person.

This causes quite a conundrum.

The first thing is that toddlers will pretty much put anything in their mouths, without exception. Keeping things out can be a near full-time job in and of itself!

Second, If you attribute all of these symptoms to teething, you’re unlikely to worry about your child spreading anything. You can’t spread teething! So, imagine you’ve gone to a toddler group, you know there will be many items that will see nearly every child’s mouth. Therefore exposure to every child is likely.

The scenarios where transmission of this infection is possible are near endless – especially when many parents just think their child is teething.

Until now we’ve left out the most common symptom. A symptom that is often cited by parents of teething children – pain!


Contrary to popular belief a tooth doesn’t literally cut its way through the gum. The reality is, that a new pathway emerges as the tissue transforms to allow space for the new, emerging tooth.


Why do we believe teething is causing any pain at all?

There are many that think teething doesn’t hurt our little biters and that, actually, they may not feel anything at all.

The most compelling reason is to do with when we get our “adult” or permanent teeth. At those ages, from 6 to 13, we have a grasp of language that allows us to verbalise any pain that teething may be causing. Yet, very few do. Many of you will remember the second round of teething too. Do you recall any pain when you grew the teeth you now have? We don’t!

But then, by way of balance, wisdom teeth have a different reputation and can be painful for some, but painless for others. My (Jamie) wisdom teeth, for example, were quite uncomfortable at points, but, I wouldn’t have called them painful.

A very interesting study we found, showed that the same child may be perceived as being more or less symptomatic, or even asymptomatic (meaning they have no symptoms), depending on which caregiver is observing them.

And this may be the issue in a nutshell.

The entire process of teething is a mismatch of adult assumptions, misattributed symptoms, and – for the most part – wrongly connected dots.



Until we can re-frame our view of teething, we’re unlikely to see any change come about. Many parents and medical professionals misdiagnose herpes as teething and thus enable the spread of HSV1 and the misinformation around teething.

Everyone has an opinion on how to treat teething, with many of these being a form of direct action. Whilst we don’t lance gums anymore, we do still medicate. As you’ll have learnt from previous weeks – that path has left a trail of devastation going back centuries.

What we don’t yet know is the damage we could be causing with current teething remedies. Stay tuned as we take a look at them in coming weeks and discover how we can help those who are finding teething troublesome.


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