Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Teething tales

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Australasian parenting guru Robin Barker firmly believes that children do not suffer in the process of getting their first teeth. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Australasian parenting guru Robin Barker firmly believes that children do not suffer in the process of getting their first teeth. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

The only teething-related issues to be found in my house at the moment are fully mature adult teeth full of holes and sensitivities from a fiercely sweet tooth developed during my last pregnancy. (In my highly conventional case it was certainly a sweet tooth for the female pregnancy and a salty one for the male baby!)

But for thousands of parents up and down the country, teething is causing havoc and mayhem around the clock, with children red-faced, dribbly and in pain from sprouting their first fangs.

Or are they? Because one of the most intriguing ideas from Australasian parenting guru Robin Barker, who is read widely and revered for her common-sense take on parenting downunder, is that children do not suffer in the process of getting their first teeth. Period.

Robin says: "After observing many babies for many years I am convinced that the perception that growing teeth causes problems in babies is confused with normal development and illness caused by other things ... [g]rowing teeth does not cause a fever, diarrhoea, colds, coughs, ear infections, smelly urine or nappy rash."

And so on. Even red cheeks and dribbling are, according to Ms Baker, signs of sensitive baby skin and a surplus of saliva, she says - not a feature of new gnashers.

The reason this counter-intuitive line came to mind was because my sister called from Australia - knackered and fed up with being kept up all night while her younger daughter developed teeth.

It was a revelation to her because her first daughter had been seemingly symptom-free (as had my children, admittedly). But her second daughter's teeth came up suddenly and caused, in her words "four days of pure hell".

Two chompers had been followed by "cross cutting' - ie, getting the eye teeth in.

Despite Bonjela (a soothing gel), Panadol, constant breastfeeding and teething rings - the child was implacable and constantly howling. The only thing that did work - for about 15 minutes - was a frozen crust of bread offered by my other sister.

A trip to the doctor found nothing amiss in the child's heath. The doctor himself admitted that he had, before children, also believed teething was a figment of the fevered minds of new parents, but had to recant his beliefs when his own children displayed the classic, highly convincing symptoms of having painful gums.

So, does teething cause our children agony, and does the constant saliva produced by the new teeth cause a raft of real outcomes including runny nappies and chapped cheeks, as parents contend, or is it just a strange co-incidence that sees minor illnesses often timing in with their emergence?

And why, when so many parents report teething symptoms, does the leading baby guru on both sides of the Tasman poo-hoo the whole concept?

Either way, as my sister found, the whole episode settled down after a few doses of Baby Panadol (for the child), some normal Panadol (for her) and the development of nerves of steel.

Nerves of steel are helpful to develop at this stage, anyhow. They sure come in handy later on when those newly acquired teeth need to be nightly brushed!

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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