I have never read anything that said teethers were bad--where did you read that?
If you aren't comfortable with using a teether (which, btw, neither of my kids ever showed any interest in), you can try giving your child a cool, damp washcloth to chew on. Our daughter preferred this, but she will also chew on her fingers if nothing else is handy. My grandmother always gave me frozen bananas to eat which, while very messy, were pretty effective. My sister-in-law gave her daughter cold celery sticks to chew on. Another of my sisters-in-law would brush her daughters's gums with an electric toothbrush and this seemed to feel good.
Medications are always hit-and-miss. We used baby Orajel on our son once and discovered it worked better at numbing our finger than numbing his gum. When your child is producing copious amounts of saliva, the Orajel just doesn't last long enough to be very effective. I know some parents (our neighbors, my cousin) who had success with teething tablets, but they contain belladonna and I could never bring myself to use them on my own kids. But these other parents swear by them.
If it came down to it, and our kids were just miserable and couldn't sleep, we'd give them Tylenol. It took about 15 minutes for it to kick in, but it at least made them comfortable enough that they could sleep or go about their day pain-free for a few hours.
Kids are pretty inventive at finding things to chew on if their gums are bothering them. When I was working on my molars as a toddler, I remember chewing on a plastic toy giraffe that had horns on its head and pointy ears, and I can remember how good it felt to chew on that toy giraffe. Must have felt pretty good to make such a lasting impression on a 2-year-old.