When your baby’s cranky (or downright inconsolable!) from cutting a new tooth, you might be tempted to reach for a teething gel.
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But according to a new warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you shouldn’t use any teething products containing benzocaine for infants.
What’s benzocaine anyway?
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic that was previously marketed to parents for relief of a young child’s pain from teething, sore throat, canker sores or gum irritation.
Since the warning was issued, the FDA has delivered letters to companies who manufacture teething products with benzocaine asking them to no longer market or sell them for such use.
According to pediatrician Eva Kubiczek-Love, MD, there’s no evidence that benzocaine can actually help relieve teething pain. And it can cause serious complications for young children.
Potentially fatal complications
“It can actually induce a phenomenon called methemoglobinemia, which can be potentially fatal,” Dr. Love says. “What can happen is the oxygen-carrying cells in the bloodstream can become altered and they can’t carry oxygen anymore, so children can obviously suffer horribly from something like this.”
Side effects of methemoglobinemia include shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, lightheadedness and rapid heart rate.
These side effects, Dr. Kubiczek-Love says, can happen after a first use, or after multiple uses — and can sometimes not occur until hours later.
How to ease teething discomfort instead
If your wee one’s experiencing teething pain, Dr. Kubiczek-Love says the best thing that parents can do is give their baby a cold, but not frozen, teething toy to chew on.
If you want to go the medication route, consult the FDA website, which has detailed information for parents on which ones are safe to take at which ages. Dr. Kubiczek-Love recommends parents make sure they have all the facts before giving any medication to their child for the first time.
“If you are in the store and you have your hand on a bottle of something you’ve never given your child before, and you have your phone, you can look at the FDA website. Or if you’re very concerned, call your pediatrician right then and there before you even buy it,” she advises.
It’s important for parents to know that just because a product is sold in the store, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily safe for infants, Dr. Kubiczek-Love says. It’s always a good idea to call the child’s pediatrician if there is even the slightest bit of uncertainty about any product.