Natural Teething Remedies Explored
When doing my research on natural teething remedies before Little Miss was born, I read more than a few stories of babies that had amber necklaces in place before teething really got under way and then one day their mothers discovered fully emerged teeth without any unpleasant symptoms at all. I figured I had my answer. I would simply apply the amber necklace and then one day I would wake up to my baby with a full set of teeth and we would never know she had been teething. Of course now I know what a joke that was.
Little Miss had other plans…
Like everything else in her short life, teething has been full steam ahead. Start with the bottom front teeth, one at a time? Not this girl. We’re talking all eight front incisors by eight months of age (with four of those all coming in within five days…) and all 16 teeth in by 13 months. And if you’re curious, all four eye teeth and all four first molars came in over the course of the same month. Thankfully the two-year molars were much more considerate. Other than a bit more drool and catching Little Miss with her fingers in her mouth (more than usual), they came in without any fuss at all. We both deserved the break!
I was not prepared for this intense teething. She was generally a happy and content baby, and there were no screams of pain. Instead, there were hours and hours of fussing and whining and sleeplessness and drooling.
Being well versed in the risks associated with administering Tylenol, which include asthma, overdose, and depletion of the oh-so-important glutatione; Motrin, what with it being an NSAID and all, Aspirin, another NSAID, and benzocaine-containing Baby Orajel, the standard teething remedies of the masses, I wanted to avoid their usage as much as possible. I don’t even take that stuff myself, so I was not comfortable giving it to my child!
So what was available that a) worked; and b) I felt comfortable giving my child?
While her amber necklace was not enough on its own to alleviate Little Miss’s teething pain, it did make a big difference! When she started teething at 10 weeks, the first tell-tale sign was the waterfall of drool. The waterfall disappeared and she was quite a bit less irritable when wearing her amber necklace.
Baltic amber is fossilized tree sap that is said to work when the stones are worn against the skin. Body heat then releases oils that contain succinic acid, a natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory. It has been used for centuries for the relief of various pain ailments. The closer to the site of the inflammation the amber is worn, the more effective it is said to be. I have heard the lighter colours and “raw” finished stones are more effective than the darker or polished stones, but I have used both with equally good results. Necklaces should be replaced after about six months of continuous wear as the succinic acid content will deplete over time. Some sources say you can “recharge” the necklace by leaving it out in the sun. I have not personally tried this to speak to its effectiveness, but I did notice a decrease in the efficacy of Little Miss’s first necklace at around the six month mark and replaced it at that time.
Some health and parenting authorities have raised concerns over the safety of amber necklaces, accusing them of being choking or strangulation dangers. Like many things in parenting, this comes down to common sense. Buy a necklace that fits, thereby minimizing the risk of baby getting his arm through it or it catching on something. A good fit should be akin to a loose choker. Good quality necklaces have plastic clasps that break apart under pressure, preventing strangulation or the necklace breaking elsewhere and releasing a bead. Good quality necklaces also have knots tied between each bead so that, if the necklace does break elsewhere than the clasp, only one bead is released. The beads are typically quite small and would be unlikely for a young baby to be able to grasp or an older child to choke on. Some cautious parents choose to have their child wear a bracelet or anklet instead, also with good results.
Though less well known than its amber cousin, Little Miss’s hazelwood necklace added a noticeable layer of teething relief.
Hazelwood is harvested from the Boreal Forest and has been used for centuries in Native American medicine for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Current research has yet to determine how exactly it works, but the wood is very high in polyphenols and many, many testimonials speak to it helping a wide variety of ailments that are inflammatory in nature. Like amber, it is most effective when worn against the skin, though location seems to be of less importance. You can even find necklaces that are a combination of Baltic amber and hazelwood. Hazelwood should be replaced every 3-6 months or when the wood has darkened significantly.
Like amber necklaces, common sense should be exercised when using hazelwood necklaces. Buy a necklace that fits to prevent issues. Necklaces should utilize a screw clasp that will release under pressure. Instead of the thread or string used with amber, hazelwood necklaces use a wire to which the beads are then clamped which prevents them from coming lose even if the wire of the necklace were to break. The wire will eventually weaken and wear out from normal use which makes it important to follow the 3-6 month replacement recommendation.
There are a slew of homeopathic teething remedies available, but these are some that have worked for us.
The first one we tried was Camilia by Boiron. After days of fussing and sleeplessness, Little Miss slept for 16 hours (with the exception of feedings) after her first two doses. It didn’t take her long to figure out that this stuff helps her feel better and she started sucking it right out of the tube herself!
The heavy-hitter in my arsenal is Complex TEE from Thompson’s Homeopathic Supplies in Toronto. The main ingredient in this remedy is belladonna (properly and safely diluted), which has been used for centuries as an effective teething and pain management remedy. This remedy is similar in composition to the famous Hyland’s Teething Tablets, which I haven’t personally used but have heard many great testimonials, and Health Canada released a statement in the fall of 2016 confirming the safety of the Hyland’s Teething Tablets.
Arnica montana is another remedy that we found especially helpful. Usually thought of for pain and bruising caused by injury, it is also effective for pain and bruising caused by teeth cutting through the gums! After the controversy surrounding the above-mentioned Hyland’s Teething Tablets, Hyland’s released their new Oral Pain Relief tablets with arnica in place of belladonna. When I have run out of belladonna, or Complex TEE, I have used arnica with good results, though I wouldn’t say as good as with a belladonna-based remedy.
A popular teething remedy, and the main active ingredient in Camilia (above), is chamomilla. What most people don’t realize is that chamomilla is what we call a constitutional remedy. This means that its effectiveness has a lot to do with the personality of the person taking it. Chamomilla is suitable for children who tend to be angry, irrational, and loud when in pain or upset. The kind that obnoxiously demand a toy and then throw it away as soon as they get it. The companion remedy to chamomilla is pulsatilla. Pulsatilla is suitable for children who tend to be exceptionally whiny, fussy, and clingy when in pain. The kind that just want to be held and burrow their face in your neck. This is an important distinction to make to ensure you are selecting the correct remedy for your little one.
Orajel makes a homeopathic teething gel that we have used with some success (or as much success as you can have when trying to rub a clear gel in a baby’s mouth while attempting not to allow it to be washed out with saliva). You can find it at most pharmacies and dug stores in the same area as the regular topical teething remedies.
Cloves have been safely used for generations for dental pain, and for good reason. They contain eugenol, an effective natural anesthetic and antiseptic, and clove preparations have been shown to be just as as effective as benzocaine for addressing dental pain.
Clove bud essential oil is favoured in some circles, but after doing my own research, I am not comfortable with using this on Little Miss. Clove essential oil is not recommended for use on children under two years of age and carries several safety concerns, regardless of your choice of essential oil brand.
While the essential oil is not safe to use on babies and young toddlers, infusing olive oil with the actual clove spice is! It was also quite effective for us. I simply soaked the fresh ground cloves in good-quality, organic olive oil for at least a week and then rubbed this clove-infused oil on Little Miss’s gums to help provide relief. Ideally, the longer you can let it soak, the better. Once we had a supply to use, I allowed following batches to soak longer. And you don’t need much at a time.
Punkin Butt Teething Oil is a popular commercially-available herbal teething preparation that uses cloves, chamomile, and mint to soothe sore gums. It also contains essential oils, and as such, I am not comfortable using it as an oral preparation on my daughter.
Finally, there is no replacement for a good chewing medium. It was important for me that what Little Miss was putting in her mouth was going to be safe and healthy for her. Standard teething toys are usually made in China where lead content, among other issues, has been a recurring problem. There are more plastics coming out that are BPA-free, and even more phthalate-free options, but I still don’t trust what else might be hiding in plastics. You can find more information on the dangers of plastics (including BPA-free plastics) in this piece I wrote for The Family That Heals Together.
Thankfully, there are many safe and non-toxic teething options available. Popular choices for Little Miss have included a frozen washcloth, fingers (mine or her own, though she bites much harder on mine!), wooden toys, and a frozen cube of breast milk (for younger babies) or pureed veggies/fruit (for older children who have started solids) in one of those mesh food holder thingies (yes, that’s a technical term). I would say her favourite teething toy is the ever popular Sophie. Made of natural rubber and food-based colours, I was so happy when we received one of the smaller “figure eight” Sophies as a gift. This smaller version of the original was a much better fit for Little Miss’s small hands and allowed her to work on her fine motor skills while easing her teething discomfort. As an added bonus, it is solid, so there is no need to worry about the potential for mold growth inside.
A Word About Essential Oils
Essential oils are extremely popular among families and parents looking to address physical ailments for themselves and their children. While they can be incredibly effective, they also come with potential risks, particularly for young children. These risks exist regardless of the quality/purity of the brand you buy because essential oils are extremely concentrated plant chemicals.
Babies and children should never ingest essential oils, which means no essential oils should ever be given to them in oral preparations. I tend to gravitate towards the safety recommendations of Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young in their book Essential Oil Safety, which specifies no use of essential oils on babies under the age of 3 months. Other more conservative sources discourage the use of essential oils on babies under the age of 6 months.
Personally, I have found with the correct, effective use of homeopathy, I never needed to use essential oils to manage teething issues with Little Miss. Also something to consider, the use of essential oils may antidote the effects of homeopathy. If you do chose to use essential oils to help manage teething symptoms in older babies/toddlers, lavender and copaiba are popular ones. But please be sure to thoroughly research all safety precautions related to the use of essential oils in children of teething age before using.
This list is by no means exhaustive and is merely the collection of all the wisdom that some two years of parenting has provided, but these are the teething remedies that have worked for us under some pretty intense circumstances. What are some of your favourite, tried-and-true, natural teething remedies?
Please note that I am not a doctor or a trained health care professional of any kind. This post is based on my own personal research and experience only and the information contained herein is for educational purposes only.