Some babies sail through teething with barely a whimper, while others cry their way through it. If you have or care for a baby with teething pain, the FDA says to stay away from using any medication containing benzocaine on your little one’s gums. The agency has warned against benzocaine use for teething pain in the past, but due to mounting evidence that it may cause life-threatening complications, they’re working to stop it from being marketed for children altogether.
What is Benzocaine?
Benzocaine is the main ingredient in many over-the-counter oral pain-relief products, including gels, sprays, and ointments. Name brands for these products include Anbesol, Baby Orajel, Cepacol, Chloraseptic, Hurricaine, Orabase, Orajel, and Topex. Benzocaine is also found in store brand, generic, and prescription products.
What’s Wrong with Benzocaine for Teething Pain?
There is evidence that even small amounts of benzocaine are associated with methemoglobinemia — a rare but serious condition resulting from elevated levels of methemoglobin in the blood. Methemoglobinemia reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, and can lead to death.
On top of that, evidence that benzocaine is even effective for teething pain is slim. In a nutshell, the possible risks of using benzocaine on your little one’s gums far outweigh its questionable benefits.
What Are the Symptoms of Methemoglobinemia?
Symptoms of methemoglobinemia can occur in people of any age, although children under 2 are most at-risk. Symptoms may appear within minutes to 2 hours of using benzocaine, and can occur even if someone has used benzocaine without issues before. These symptoms require immediate medical attention and include:
- Skin, lips, or nail beds are pale, grey, or blue
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate
What This Means For You
The FDA recently announced that companies should discontinue benzocaine products that are marketed for use on infants and children, as well as add warning labels to the packaging of all benzocaine products. While the agency works to ensure compliance, you may still find products with benzocaine that are labeled for temporary teething pain relief. It’s important to read the drug facts label on any product you intend to use on your child, and avoid anything containing benzocaine.
In general, it’s a good idea to ask your pediatrician about any medical or herbal product you plan to use on your child. In fact, the FDA even discourages the use of homeopathic teething tablets due to questionable amounts of potentially-dangerous ingredients.
Lastly, if any adults in your household use benzocaine products for oral pain, be sure to keep them out of your child’s reach as you would any medication.
So what’s a parent or caregiver with a fussy, teething tot to do? In general, gentle pressure and cold (from a wet washcloth kept in the refrigerator, for example) may help relieve teething pain. You can find detailed, safe, and expert-approved suggestions here.