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Teething Medications Deadly in Infants

By Sandria M. Washington 

A teething baby can be an unhappy baby, and it’s not uncommon for parents and caregivers to try and soothe their little one with over-the-counter oral/”gum numbing” medications.  U.S. Food & Drug  Administration (FDA) officials now warn that teething babies don’t need medicine on their gums and in fact,  these popular remedies can cause serious injury and even lead to death.

In a June 25 article released on the FDA’s Consumer Updates page, the agency states that local anesthetics known as viscous lidocaine, or benzocaine-containing teething products, should never be used for teething children, unless under the direction and supervision of a doctor.

Dangerous Ingredients

Viscous lidocaine is a gel-like syrup that’s used as a local anesthetic, typically to treat mouth ulcers in chemotherapy patients. It requires a prescription.

Benzocaine can be found in many popular over-the-counter products like Baby Orajel, Anbesol,

Hurricaine and Orabase.

These local anesthetics contain ingredients that can lead to overdoses and a rare but serious condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced.  Children under age 2 are at particular risk and according to FDA pharmacist Mary Ghods, R.Ph., the most severe cases can end in death.
Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Falling asleep too easily
  • Confusion
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Vision problems

Safer Alternatives

“Teething is a normal phenomenon; all babies teethe,” says Ethan Hausman, M.D., a pediatrician and pathologist at FDA. “FDA does not recommend any sort of drug, herbal or homeopathic medication or therapy for teething in children.”

Instead, the FDA supports:

  • gently rubbing or massaging the gums with your finger, and
  • giving your child a cool teething ring or a clean, wet, cool washcloth to chew on

The FDA is now requiring a warning label to be included on all over-the-counter oral numbing products.

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