Teething, Grandma, and John Locke

Magan asked “Is it a myth that children run a fever with teething?”

A good rule for pediatricians is: Don’t pick a fight with Grandma. But here at the Pediatric Insider, we don’t shy away from controversy—especially since Grandma isn’t reading the blog.

Teething had been thought for centuries to cause all kinds of ill effects, from fevers to seizures to death. John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher and physician, wrote that “Convulsion fits before tootheing are from gripeings in the belly”, and recommended a form of opium, almond oil, and therapeutic bleeding to prevent fevers and “height of blood” from this scourge. Times were rough for babies then, and the doctors didn’t make life any easier.

A few recent studies (summaries here and here) have tried to pin down an association between teething and symptoms. Both of these had some important drawbacks: they’re not very big, and teething and symptoms were reported by parents who could easily figure out what the study was for. The data sets were incomplete, too—leading the authors to point out that parents were more likely to fill out logs when their children did have symptoms, rather than turn in reports of healthy days. Though both studies did find weak and inconsistent associations with a number of minor symptoms, reports of low fevers were inconsistent and didn’t reliably fit with days of teething. High fevers (> 102 F) definitely did not occur with teething.

Though it’s possible that minor symptoms or low grade fevers could occur with teething, it’s clear that significant symptoms and fevers do not. If your baby has a fever > 102 or any serious symptoms, don’t blame it on teething—or from “gripeings in the belly.” And don’t tell grandma I told you that!

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