Therapist Approved Teethers For Multiple Developmental Levels
Teething can be rough! And, many parents have been left wondering what to do for their babies with painful, swollen gums after many frequently used teething gels (e.g. Orajel) have recently been pulled off store shelves following the US Federal Drug Administration’s warning about the drug in teething medications (i.e. benzocaine).
I have been a pediatric physical therapist for the past 18 years and the mother of three for the past 13 years. Hence,I’ve seen a lot of drool, sore gums and teethers. Maybe you read my other blog about why teethers are very important for infant development beyond just teething.
Here’s a follow-up with a few specific teether recommendations that will hopefully keep your baby joyfully chomp chomping!
General tips for teethers
Do not give a child under three years old any toys or teethers that can fit inside of toilet roll. This is a choking hazard. If you have older children in the house, teach them this rule and let them help you as the “Toilet Roll Police.” This may also motivate big siblings to clean up their toys before they get baby nibbled!
- Ensure that the toys and teethers do not have objects that can break off such as eyes on a stuffed animal.
- Watch the teethers for signs of wear and throw them out if they become damaged and a choking hazard.
- Choose your level of comfort with product ingredients and read labels accordingly. The teethers recommended below are (at a minimum) BPA free. Most teethers that you will find in your local baby store, Target or grocery store will not be “clean” products.
- Please note that babies need to have access to their hands in order to develop their hand to mouth skills and body awareness. Therefore, I recommend keeping their hands out of mitts and ready to learn! Any baby scratches that occur will heal very quickly.
- Also, babies learn from putting things in their mouth because the sensory system around the mouth -including the lips and tongue – is one of the most developed areas of a newborn’s body. So, let them gnaw away on safe objects!
I believe in meeting our children where they are and building them up from there.
Following, the toy and baby gear recommendations that I make to parents and caregivers are developmentally-based (versus exclusively age-based recommendations). Here’s what I have seen babies enjoy the best while gaining the most developmental benefits.
STAGE 1: Teethers for babies who can reflexively hold an object placed in their hand (typically developing babies age 2+ months old):
At this stage, babies will not have full awareness of their hands. They will lack purposeful movement and control towards an object and will hold onto objects placed into their hands due to a grasp reflex. However, they will one day bring that object to mouth, and we therefore need to choose their teethers appropriately.
- Small, light, circular-shaped teethers are easier for babies to handle and encourage them to bring both hands together at midline.
- The teether should be able to fit in the baby’s fisted hand with ease. Look for teethers that are about as thick as your pinky finger.
- Babies typically have more interest in a firmer teether.
- My favorite teether for this developmental stage is the Chewy Q. I encourage babies to chew on it during tummy time, too. Another similar teether (although softer, larger and with added texture) is Life Factory’s Multi-Sensory Silicone Teething Ring, which was designed by a pediatric feeding specialist.
STAGE 2: Teethers for babies who can grab an object with their hands and bring it to their mouth to explore (typically developing babies 4+ months old):
By four months old you may notice your baby staring at his or her hands. The baby is learning that he or she actually has hands, which is the first step to using them. Soon babies begin swatting at toys and eventually figure out how to open their hands, grab an object and bring it to their mouths. Here are my recommendations for the next stage of teethers:
- The Stage 1 recommendations for size and firmness still apply to this developmental stage (i.e. small, light and firm).
- Babies at this stage will be ready for more variety in the shape and size of their teethers. Some additional options from here forward include: Chewy P & Q, Zoli BUNNY teethers, Beckman Tri-Chew, Chewy Tubes, Baby Banana Infant Toothbrush and Trainer, Ike & Leo Teething Toys, crinkle books or possibly a wet/cold/frozen face cloth.
- Another popular option is good ol’ Sophie the Giraffe. It seems to work for babies at multiple stages starting from about 4 months old. Older babies enjoy getting those long legs into the back of their mouths when their molars are sore. I attached my babies’ Sophie to a pacifier holder so that when temptation striked and my babies threw it, we didn’t lose Sophie (and $25) in the park.
- Some mothers (especially those who carry their babies in wraps/babycarriers) also like wearing fashionable silicone teething bead necklaces because the baby will inevitably want to bite on whatever you are wearing anyhow.
Stage 3: Heavy chewers (6-24 months)
When your baby is close to sitting independently (typically developing 6+ months old), he or she is likely to able to get the hand to mouth pretty well and might be starting to eat solids. Babies at this stage might like adding more textures, temperatures, sounds and tastes to their teethers. They may also like more resistance or vibration to their teethers.
- The Stage 1 and 2 teethers listed above will likely still be pleasing to your child. The Knobby Q, Zoli BUNNY teether, Beckman Tri-Chew, Life Factory’s Multi-Sensory Silicone Teething Ring and the ARK Grabber XT may become particularly interesting to your child during this stage as these teethers offer more resistance and/or texture.
- Vibrating teethers are enjoyed by many babies, especially those who have visual challenges or who need help with oral awareness and facial muscle tone. Unfortunately, their are limited BPA-free options for vibratory teethers. The Nuby Vibe-eez Vibrating Teethers are the only BPA-free vibrating teethers that I am aware of.
- If you and your baby are ready to start solid food tasters, you can also use frozen bananas and cucumbers as teethers by cutting them into food fingers and freezing them. Please be sure to watch your baby carefully at all times when they have a food teether.
Teething options for babies in the particularly troublesome weeks of teething:
- Teethers of the right density can help push the teeth through those tender gums. I have noticed that babies often prefer ones that are more firm (as listed above) versus squishy (i.e. liquid filled teethers).
- Most teethers can reach the baby’s front teeth, but if your baby is getting molars, it is important to give him or her a teether that reaches the back of the mouth such as the Chewy P, Zoli BUNNY teether, Beckman Tri-Chew, Chewy Tubes, Baby Banana Infant Toothbrush and Trainer, ARK Grabber (for toddler+ mouths), ARK Baby Grabber (for smaller mouths) and Sophie the Giraffe.
- Cold/frozen face cloths, bananas and cucumbers as described above can also be soothing for sore gums.
Teethers for sensory seeking children
Sometimes children who are beyond the toddler years will continue to seek mouthing experiences such as licking non-food objects, chewing on toys and sucking on clothes. Firmer teethers (e.g. Beckman Tri-Chew, ARK Grabber XT (for heavy chewers) and Zoli BUNNY), chewable necklaces and chewable bracelets may satiate the needs of these children. However, if your preschool aged or older child is experiencing a significant amount of mouthing of objects, you may want to speak to your pediatrician and seek the advice of a pediatric occupational therapist or speech therapist to identify the root cause of continued mouthing of objects beyond age expectations.
For full disclosure, I have no affiliation with any of these products, and this is my opinion based on personal and professional experiences. I made only a few suggestions for teethers as I believe that less is more and that a couple of high-quality teethers appropriate for your child’s developmental level will go a long way (as long as you can keep track of them).