Teething in Babies: What African Parents Should Know


By Ibironke Taiwo. Freelance Writer, with medical review and editorial support by The DLHA Team.

African baby with first set of erupting teeth

African baby with first set of erupting teeth.





  • Teeth eruption is a fundamental process of a baby’s post-delivery development world-wide.
  • The primary teeth will start erupting in African babies like their counterparts worldwide between ages 4 - 7 months.
  • The first set to erupt is the bottom centre followed by the top centre. 
  • Evidence that your baby’s teeth are erupting include; irritability, drooling saliva excessively, rubbing the cheeks and pulling at the ear, etc.
  • Supportive care is the common type of care needed to manage teething problems.
  • Consult your baby’s healthcare provider if teething is accompanied by diarrhoea, vomiting, high fever, cough and a swollen face.





Teething is a fundamental process that every infant experiences. While teeth development begins in babies during pregnancy, eruption starts in many babies at 4 months of life and in other babies at 6 months. But generally teething occurs in babies within ages 4 - 7 months of life. Note however that one in 2000 babies may be born with a tooth.


The eruption of a baby's primary teeth also known as the milk teeth marks an important stage of their growth and development. Teething comes with certain challenges which are quite easy to manage.


Africa being a diverse continent is made up of various cultural practices and healthcare settings. Therefore parents and healthcare professionals must have a great understanding of teething in African babies to provide adequate support and care during the process.


Keep reading as this article aims to discuss the onset of teething in African babies, its symptoms, cultural beliefs, and how to care for your baby during teething.



Cultural Beliefs and Practices Related To Teething in African Societies


There are a lot of cultural beliefs and practices about teething among nursing African mothers in Africa. Most of these are misconceptions as there is no evidence to support the claims.


Teething which is also known as the eruption of teeth is the emergence of a baby's teeth from their gum. In most babies, teething begins at six months and continues till the baby is about 3 years old 


Several myths across African countries have been attributed to teething. For instance in Ethiopia, it is believed that diarrhea and fever occur during teething due to the presence of worms in the gum. Some African mothers also engage in the practice of allowing their baby to bite on the pacifier to help them relieve teething symptoms, a practice which is said to increase the risk of middle ear infection in babies. 


Another practice is the rubbing of the baby's gum with herbs such as garlic to relieve the teething symptoms. 


It is quite easy to attribute all of these claims to teething as there are no specific causes for the minor ailments a baby experiences. Therefore there is a need for African mothers and healthcare professionals to have an in-depth knowledge of the teething process, as this will help eradicate the mentality of attributing serious childhood illness to teething instead of seeking prompt attendance for management or cure at hospitals.



How To Know If Your Baby Is Teething?


It is important to know that the signs and symptoms of teething in African babies vary and some babies may exhibit little or no symptoms.


Generally, the symptoms of teething include:

  • Irritability, which occurs as a result of discomfort or pain from teething 
  • Drooling caused by the increased flow of saliva 
  • Coughing, the excessive saliva produced during teething could cause your baby to gag or cough 
  • Cheek rubbing and ear pulling, babies do this with the instinct of trying to relieve themselves of the discomfort 
  • Low grade fever. Swollen and tender gums could be the cause of your baby's low-grade fever. It should be noted that teething does not usually cause high fever. So if your baby develops a high fever during teething they should be taken to the hospital as there may be an underlying cause
  • Fussiness and crankiness
  • Wanting to chew on hard things.



In What Order Do Teeth Appear in Babies?


The first teeth to appear in babies commonly are the two in the bottom centre, followed by the two in the upper centre. Then the pattern occurs outwards with the appearance of the incisors, the canine, the first molar and then the second molar. 


In total, your baby would have had 20 teeth erupting in the mouth by the age of three years, 10 in the upper jaw and 10 in the lower jaw. See figure 1 below.

Order of  teeth eruption in babies

Order of teeth eruption in babies. Credit: American Dental Association. Click on image to enlrge.


These primary teeth will then begin to fall off around the age of 6 years to make way for your child’s permanent teeth.


Challenges Faced By African Parents During the Teething Process 


The teething process can be a tough time for parents as they tend to face a quite number of challenges. 


Quite a large number of African mothers do not have basic knowledge of teething and this causes them to attribute unrelated illness to teething. Thereby making it hard for them to give the necessary support to their baby.


Historical accounts from Leeds in the UK has it that teething was registered as one of the leading causes of infant death in the 1800s with a count of 450 children buried in the Leeds General Cemetery between 1835 and 1969 as a result teething being declared as the cause of death. This was traced to the fact that the teething process was not well understood by parents and caregivers at the time. The misconceptions surrounding teething also contributed to the number of deaths recorded as parents thought the underlying illness during teething are the expected side effects thereby leaving them untreated and when it eventually leads to death it is noted as "teething"


Although there is more awareness about teething compared to the past, people in some parts of the world like in African countries still lack in-depth knowledge of the teething process. This poses a challenge as necessary measures have not been put in place to enlighten and educate the populace.


Seeing your baby cry due to discomfort from teething without knowing how to help it get better could be very disturbing. Parents are not given adequate enlightenment about the teething process during pregnancy or after delivery which has rendered most of them helpless in providing appropriate care for their babies during teething.



Importance of Oral Care During Teething


The development of your child's first teeth determines the health of their permanent teeth. Therefore you should take extra care of your child's first teeth which are also known as the primary teeth.


Oral care helps to protect your baby from developing cavities in their teeth.


Cavities are areas of tooth decay that develop into tiny holes. It occurs when the enamel (the shiny surface of the teeth) is invaded by bacteria. Although having bacteria in the mouth is natural, eating lots of sugary substances, triggers them to be harmful as they feed on the substances left behind thereby creating acids that attack the enamel and stimulate tough decay.


The natural sugar present in breast milk can also contribute to tooth decay. With appropriate oral hygiene, the risk of developing tooth decay is reduced.


Oral care prevents your baby from having malocclusion of the teeth. The removal of teeth due to decay leaves gaps in your baby's teeth causing the surrounding teeth to shift around and braces may be needed to arrange the teeth properly in the future. 


The first step of digestion begins in the mouth and chewing and healthy teeth are needed for this purpose. Therefore help your baby to develop healthy teeth till adulthood by practicing oral hygiene right from the teething process.


Also, every child wants to grow up having a lovely and bright smile. Without healthy teeth, it would be quite difficult for a child to have the confidence to smile.



Role of Parents in Supporting Babies During Teething 


Teething varies in babies. It can be quite difficult and painful for some and stress-free for others. You just have to find what works for your baby.


Here are ways to help your baby experience an easy teething process.

  • Gum massage using teeth rings which are most effective when cooled first in the fridge rather than in the freezer. Cooling in the freezer may get the teeth ring frozen and this could damage your baby's gum. Do not tie a teething ring around your baby's neck to avoid choking hazards. Also teething rings made from silicone, marble, or wood should be avoided.
  • The cooling sensation technique can be used to cool your baby's sore gum. To achieve this, soak a clean washcloth in water and place it in the fridge for about 30 to 60 minutes 
  • You can also help calm your baby's gum by allowing them to chew on your fingers just make sure your fingers are clean 
  • Make sure that your baby's body is kept dry at all times. Get a wiper to clean them up as much as you can during drooling or you make use of a bib to prevent the drool from getting into their cloth. This helps to prevent rashes 
  • Use of medication like paracetamol and ibuprofen. These drugs are mostly used in severe cases such as difficulty sleeping due to excessive pain. Before any of this medication is given, speak with your baby's pediatrician first to confirm the proper dosage. Do not give aspirin to children under 16 years old 



When To Consult a Healthcare Professional 


Consult your pediatrician if your baby's gum is bleeding. You should also call your doctor if your baby is experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, high fever, cough, and swollen face as these symptoms are not normal signs of teething





In conclusion, teething is a process every African baby goes through and it comes with different challenges, but understanding the process makes it an easy process for both the baby and the parents as they will be able to give the adequate support needed by the baby.



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Published: January 15, 2024

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