Teething can cause babies to drool. The excess saliva this creates can irritate the skin around a baby’s mouth, as well as their cheeks, chin, neck, or chest. This causes a teething rash.
A teething rash may come and go during the months that a baby is teething. The condition is not contagious and is rarely cause for concern. By taking some simple steps, parents and caregivers can treat the teething rash at home.
In this article, we look at what causes teething rash, how to treat and prevent it, and what it looks like compared to other types of rash.
Teething is the process of a baby’s first teeth pushing through their gums. This process typically starts around the age of 6 months to 1 year and finishes around the age of 3. Teething can hurt, causing babies to become fussy or difficult to calm.
Drooling is a common symptom of teething. A 2015 study in BMC Oral Health found that 92% of 254 infants drooled due to teething. When this drool or saliva coat’s a baby’s skin, such as the area around their mouth, it can cause a rash.
According to one article, saliva creates ideal conditions for bacteria to grow on the skin. Saliva also contains digestive enzymes and may contain pieces of food, both of which may cause irritation.
Other signs a baby is teething include:
- sleep disturbances
- a mild rise in body temperature that stays less than 100°F or 37.8°C
A teething rash may occur in any place where a baby’s saliva accumulates. This could include the:
- mouth area
The rash itself may look:
- blotchy, red, or discolored
- bumpy or raised
- chapped and dry
The rash may also have a slight smell due to food or milk in the saliva.
Treatment for teething rash focuses on keeping the baby’s skin clean and dry. In many cases, parents and caregivers can do this at home by:
- gently wiping saliva from the skin with damp cotton wool or a damp cloth whenever it accumulates
- patting dry with a clean towel
- applying a barrier cream or jelly, such as Eucerin or Vaseline, to protect the irritated skin
It is also advisable to promptly change any bedding or clothes that are wet.
Preventing teething rash involves many of the same steps. Parents and caregivers can reduce the amount of saliva accumulating on the baby’s skin by:
- using fresh, clean bibs to catch drool
- limiting pacifier use, as these can allow more saliva to pool on the skin
- give the baby a cool teething ring or cold washcloth to chew on to soothe their gums
Do not over-rub the baby’s skin, as this can add to the irritation.
It is important to note that the symptoms of teething, including teething rashes, can closely resemble other skin conditions that affect babies.
This section looks at other conditions that may cause a rash in infants.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, around 20% of newborns get acne. Some babies are born with acne, while others develop acne in the first few weeks of life. Typically, it goes away on its own within a few weeks or months.
Neonatal acne often occurs on the cheeks or nose but can also appear on the:
According to the AAD, acne in babies younger than 6 weeks is usually not a cause for concern. If acne appears after 6 weeks, a caregiver should speak to a doctor or dermatologist to determine the cause.
In infants and toddlers, atopic dermatitis usually appears first on the knees, elbows, or face. The symptoms include:
- dry, scaly skin
- crusty or weeping sores
The rash may then spread to other areas of the body. In babies with paler skin, the rash will be red, while in darker skin, it can be brown or grey.
The drool from teething may further irritate patches of eczema, so it is important to keep the skin clean and dry and use a protective emollient for moisture. A doctor can advise on how to treat atopic dermatitis in young babies.
Learn about the differences between baby acne and eczema here.
Fifth disease, or erythema infectiosum, is a viral illness caused by parvovirus B19. Its hallmark symptom is a rash on the cheeks, with paleness around the mouth (circumoral pallor).
For this reason, some people refer to the rash as a “slapped cheek rash.” However, some also develop a second rash on the arms, legs, chest, back, or buttocks.
The rash may itch but will usually improve on its own within 7–10 days along with the other symptoms of fifth disease, which include:
- a headache
- runny nose
These symptoms are usually mild. Parvovirus B19 is contagious, but once someone develops a rash, they can no longer transmit the virus.
Learn more about erythema infectiosum here.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral illness common in children younger than 5 years old, though it can affect anyone. The most common cause is coxsackievirus. HFMD is usually not serious and tends to improve within 7–10 days.
People sometimes confuse HFMD with foot-and-mouth disease. However, these are different conditions, and the latter only affects pigs, sheep, and cows.
The symptoms of HFMD include:
- a rash of flat red spots – most commonly on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet
- mouth sores
- a sore throat
- appetite loss
Most people do not need treatment for HFMD and can manage the symptoms by resting, staying hydrated, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication.
Learn more about HFMD here.
A rash can be one of the symptoms of meningitis. Meningitis occurs when the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord become inflamed, often resulting from a viral or bacterial infection. Viral meningitis can often improve on its own, but bacterial meningitis can be fatal.
As a result, it is important to know the symptoms of meningitis and seek emergency help if a child has them. Dial 911 or call the nearest emergency department if a child has:
- a rash that does not disappear when pressed against a glass (“non-blanching”)
- a stiff neck
- sensitivity to light
- high temperature
- cold hands and feet
- extreme sleepiness
A baby with meningitis may also have a stiff or floppy body or a soft bulge on the top of their head. Babies with darker skin may not have a visible rash. Check lighter areas, such as the palms of the hands, or the soles of the feet, for spots.
Learn more about meningitis in babies here.
A mild teething rash will often improve with home care. However, it is a good idea to check with a doctor that drool is the cause of a baby’s rash. This will help rule out other conditions.
Parents and caregivers should also speak to a doctor if a baby’s rash looks infected. Signs a rash may be infected include:
If a baby has any worrisome symptoms or a fever of 101°F (38°C) or higher, call a doctor immediately.
A teething rash is caused by babies drooling. Parents and caregivers can prevent and treat a teething rash by protecting the skin from drool and keeping the baby clean and dry.
A doctor can advise on ways to do this and assess whether there could be another cause for the rash.