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Popular Teething Products Are Unsafe for Babies

November 20, 2018

There are some areas of parenting where everyone has an opinion. And doesn’t it always happen that when you’re pushing your kid in the grocery cart, trying desperately to find the last item on your list so you can just get out of that store, that’s when someone stops you to share their little nuggets of parenting wisdom?

I’ve found that teething is one of those topics that people always want to talk about. When they see you with a drooling infant who’s trying to contort herself to gnaw a cold, metal shopping cart, everyone has a story about what they did for their kids or a secret remedy their grandmother taught them to ease teething pain.

Many times, though, I’ve politely nodded my head and smiled, knowing that as much as I appreciate their concern, I’m not going to follow their recommendations.

Like most moms, I feel anxious when I know my child is in pain; I want to find a way to relieve that discomfort. But, when it comes to teething remedies, there are many items on the market that can be harmful to a child.

Why Are Over-the-Counter Teething Products Unsafe?

Back in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers regarding the safety of benzocaine products. This wasn’t a first for these products, as safety concerns have been raised since 2006. In 2018, the FDA took it a step further and asked manufacturers to voluntarily stop selling and marketing teething products containing benzocaine for babies. However, the FDA has not yet forced manufacturers to comply, so you may still see these items on pharmacy shelves.  

Benzocaine is a numbing ingredient often found in teething products under the brand names Anbesol, Orajel, Baby Orajel and Orabase, and has been associated with a rare, but life-threatening condition known as methemoglobinemia. (Benzocaine is also found in a variety of other products in your local pharmacy which are marketed to treat sunburns, sore throats, toothaches and insect bites. Check the list of active ingredients on the medication label to see if a product contains benzocaine).

Methemoglobinemia occurs when there’s an imbalance in the type of hemoglobin circulating in the blood. When this condition arises, blood cells can’t carry oxygen effectively throughout the body, and vital organs aren’t able to get the life-giving oxygen they need. The condition can be inherited, but more commonly it is associated with the use of certain medicines.

Because of the difficulty parents may have in identifying the symptoms and the potential severity of the condition, the FDA has recommended that children under the age of 2 years should not be given benzocaine products for the relief of teething pain, unless specifically directed by their doctor.

Other Options to Relieve Teething Pain

To relieve teething pain, consider these options instead:

  • Give your child a teething ring cooled in the refrigeratorDoctor massaging babys gums
  • Massage their gums with your finger
  • Cool a clean washcloth in the refrigerator and allow your baby to chew on it

Parents often feel unsatisfied with these rather basic suggestions and instead search for some type of medicine that will be their magic cure. Many turn to “natural” or homeopathic remedies to offer relief, but these products have not been proven safe or effective in children.

Although it is difficult to watch our children as they navigate this painful rite of passage, remember (as hard as it is!) that teething is a normal stage of development. It’s not an illness that necessarily needs treatment with medicine, but a normal part of your child’s growth that will resolve itself in time.

Provide relief safely where you can, and when you can’t, have patience. This, too, will pass.

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