Q: My friend says teething gives her baby a diaper rash. That seems crazy to me. Is she right?
A: Diaper rash is just one of the many symptoms blamed on teething at some time during the last 5,000 years. Your friend is in good company. The Greek physician Hippocrates, considered many the father of modern medicine, wrote that teething could cause gum symptoms, diarrhea, fever and even convulsions. Not so long ago people thought teething could be fatal.
Some doctors still use teething as an explanation for mild symptoms that don't seem important enough to investigate and have no other obvious cause. However, doctors seem to be just as mistaken as parents. Though only a couple of studies on teething have been done, they do not suggest that rashes, diarrhea, ear rubbing, ear infection or colic are caused by teething. Teething babies do drool, rub their gums and suck their fingers.
One study showed that some babies (about one-third) have a low-grade fever -- not more than 101 degrees -- on the day a tooth erupts. A higher fever should not be attributed to teething.
Why does your friend think teething causes a diaper rash? Probably because both teething and diaper rash are common events for babies. By chance alone, they will often occur together.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.