High fevers and other potentially serious symptoms in infants should not be written off as normal signs of teething, according to a new study.
The study, which followed 47 infants over eight months, found that teething typically caused fairly mild problems—including irritability, drooling, a day or so of diarrhea and poor sleep.
But it was not linked to any serious symptoms, like high fevers or prolonged bouts of diarrhea.
The findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics, are in line with other studies that have failed to connect teething to severe signs and symptoms.
So when teething infants do have such symptoms, parents and doctors should not assume the baby teeth are to blame, researchers say.
"We should look for other causes for the signs and symptoms, before attributing them to the eruption of primary teeth," lead researcher Joana Ramos-Jorge told Reuters Health in an email.
On days when babies had a tooth erupt, they typically had a slight increase in temperature, explained Ramos-Jorge, a pediatric dentist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil.
But they did not have outright fevers.
"Therefore, fever in the period of tooth eruption should not be underestimated, as there may be other causes," Ramos-Jorge said.
The findings are based on 47 Brazilian infants between the ages of 5 and 15 months. Over eight months, researchers visited their homes daily to take the babies' temperature, check for tooth eruptions and interview mothers about any symptoms.
Overall, the study found, the babies were more likely to be fussy or have diarrhea, sleep problems or a poor appetite on the day a tooth emerged, or the day after. But the symptoms were not severe or long-lasting.
Historically, many doctors and parents alike have thought that teething commonly causes fevers, vomiting and other potentially serious symptoms.
But several studies have now failed to confirm that impression.
Ramos-Jorge has seen two cases where a doctor wrongly attributed serious symptoms to a baby's teething: one infant turned out to have a gastrointestinal infection, the other meningitis.
The bottom line for both doctors and parents, Ramos-Jorge said, is to first consider other causes before assuming teething is the culprit.