Teething is a normal part of childhood and should not be treated with homeopathic remedies, like teething tablets, or prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications that are rubbed on the gums.
Benzocaineâa local anestheticâis the active ingredient in several OTC oral health care products such as Anbesol, Baby Orajel, Cepacol, Chloraseptic, Hurricaine, Orabase, Orajel, and Topex. These products are not useful for treating sore gums due to teething because they wash out of a babyâs mouth within minutes. Whatâs more, they can be dangerous.
The use of benzocaine gels, sprays, ointments, solutions, & lozenges for mouth & gum pain can lead to a seriousâand sometimes fatalâcondition called methemoglobinemia, in which the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells is greatly reduced.Â
Thatâs why the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is warning parents and caregivers that benzocaine products should not be used to treat teething pain in infants or children.
What You Can Do for Teething Children
On average, children begin teething around 4 to 7 months, and have a total of 20 âbaby teethâ by age 3.Â
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), occasional symptoms of teething include mild irritability, a low-level fever, drooling, & an urge to chew on something hard.
Because teething happens during a time of much change in a babyâs life, it is often wrongly blamed for congestion, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and sleep disturbances.
If your childâs gums are swollen and tender:
- gently rub or massage the gums with your finger
- give your child a teething ringÂ made of firm rubber to chew on
Make sure the teething ring is not frozen. If the object is too hard, it can hurt your childâs gums. Parents should supervise their children so they donât accidentally choke on the teething ring.
Avoid Teething Creams & Gels
As a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you may look to soothe a teething baby by rubbing numbing medications on the childâs gums. However, the FDA warns against using any sort of topical medication to treat teething pain in children, including OTC creams & gels, as well as using homeopathic teething tablets. They offer little to no benefit & are associated with serious risk. Methemoglobinemia can occur when using any local anesthetic.
Adults Can Be Affected Too
OTC benzocaine oral health care drug products are also widely used by adults.Â Doctors and dentists often use sprays containing benzocaine to numb the mucous membranes of the mouth & throat or to suppress the gag reflex during medical & surgical procedures, such as transesophageal echocardiograms, endoscopy, intubation, & feeding tube replacements.Â However, benzocaine sprays are not FDA-approved for these uses.
Talk to your health care professional about using benzocaine & other local anesthetics, especially if you have heart disease; are elderly; are a smoker; or have breathing problems such as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema. Those conditions put you at greater risk for complications relating to methemoglobinemia.
This article appears on the FDAâs Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
Updated: May 23, 2018
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