baby · health · history · Just for fun · pain · parenting · teething

Teething Sucks, But It Won’t Kill You (Unless You Live In 1842)

Little Man is FINALLY asleep in my lap for his after-lunch nap, having missed out completely on all naps this morning due to his stomach playing up. Then once his stomach settled, he immediately moved on to having issues with his teeth, so he is way overdue a sleep and has big bags under his eyes. Oh boy, teething is fun.

So obviously, it’s time for another post about teething. This time with a focus on the history of teething (or rather, the history of how humans have thought about teething) through the ages…

The Jaws of Death

Did you know that in the past, teething was often actually considered to be a cause of death? In fact, in 1842 in London, almost 5% of deaths of children under one year old were registered as being due to teething. This was probably due to the fact that children died at the age when they were teething, and doctors didn’t understand the actual cause of death. Children who are teething often have an elevated temperature, which is not actually a fever, but again in the past fever was considered to be a part of teething – as were fits, convulsions and diarrhoea. These beliefs go back to Hippocrates in Ancient Greece.

This all seems pretty strange to us now, when teething is regarded as an unpleasant experience for babies, but hardly a serious condition.

Flossed in Time


Poor teething babies in the past probably weren’t helped by the range of “treatments” used to help with their pain. Here are a few of my personal favourites (seriously don’t try this at home, although if I really have to say that then god help us all):

  • In 117 AD, Soranus of Ephesus suggested using a hare’s brain to ease teething pain (you rub it onto the gums, obviously)
  • In 1545 the English doctor, Thomas Phaire, advised hanging red coral around the child’s neck to prevent teething pain. It also had the handy side effect of helping the child to “resisteth the force of lightening“… So that’s good.
  • In 1575 the French army surgeon Ambroise Pare advised lancing (cutting) the child’s gums, an idea which proved very popular right through to the nineteenth century. In fact, in 1850 Francis Condie even wrote of a case where a dead child was supposedly revived by having his gums lanced.


Hmm. I think I’ll stick with Little Man’s teething monkey. Although admittedly, it doesn’t give him the power to resist lightening (as far as I know, I’ll check the box).

Telling the Tooth


Humans aren’t the only animals who have trouble teething. Other primates and mammals in general also have baby teeth (also known as milk teeth) which are then replaced by adult teeth. In fact, elephants and walruses which grow tusks (basically just massively overgrown teeth) apparently also experience pain when their tusks start growing in, and try to rub them on things just as a baby tries to bite when it’s teething. Which sounds adorable.

It’s a strange thought that parents throughout the ages have all had to deal with teething. And given the crazy remedies that have been suggested throughout history, we’ve all wished it was easier to soothe our teething babies.

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