Are Teething Products Safe?

Those cute little pearly whites that you see when babies smile are absolutely adorable, but teething is no picnic for babies — or their parents. Any mom or dad who’s ever had to soothe a teething baby knows it’s just about one of the toughest phases of parenthood. You swing, rock and walk with your baby for what seems like hours. You try every type of chilled teething toy you can get your hands on to relieve the pain in your baby’s gums. You repeat all of the above in what seems like an endless loop of desperation as you attempt to soothe your very uncomfortable little one. But one thing you should not do is use over-the-counter gum-numbing medications containing benzocaine.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on manufacturers that sell products with benzocaine in them: Not only did the agency issue its strongest warning to consumers that teething products containing benzocaine can be dangerous to babies and children, but it also said that they should no longer be sold or marketed for relieving teething pain in young children. Lastly, the FDA has sent a letter to manufacturers asking them to stop selling teething products with benzocaine in them — and said it will take legal action against companies that refuse to comply with the FDA’s warning. 

Why the Warning and Action Was Issued

The FDA has been warning parents about gum-numbing products for years, but decided to take this tougher stance because of continuing concerns about the health and safety risks posed by these products. Of particular concern is a rare but potentially life-threatening side effect benzocaine can have in babies and young children called methemoglobinemia, in which the amount of oxygen in a person’s blood is reduced.

The FDA has also noted that there is “no demonstrated benefit” from these topical anesthetics in babies and children, meaning that you have a risky product that doesn’t actually do much to help relieve teething discomfort.

Tips to Handle Teething

So what’s a desperate parent to do? Here are some important tips to keep in mind as you and your baby struggle with teething:

  • Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations to help a teething baby. The AAP suggests gently rubbing your baby’s gums with one of your fingers or using teething toys or rings. (Avoid freezing teething toys since they can get too hard, but you can try chilling it in the fridge.)
  • Remember that teething may occasionally be accompanied by a low-grade temperature. However, if it’s higher than 101 degrees, you should call your doctor since the cause is likely not teething.
  • Natural doesn’t mean safe. Also steer clear of any homeopathic or “natural” teething relief products containing belladonna, which the FDA has said is linked to seizures and difficulty breathing, among other scary symptoms.
  • Talk to your caregiver. Don’t forget to let grandparents or other caregivers know that they shouldn’t give your teething tot numbing oral gels or creams (or any other type of remedy) without checking with you first. (In previous generations, parents sometimes tried rubbing whiskey, brandy, or other alcohol on gums; since no amount of alcohol is considered safe for a baby these days, remind anyone who babysits not to do this with your baby.)
  • Check with your doctor before using pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help ease your baby’s discomfort.
  • Talk to other parents. It can be hard to feel as though you can’t help baby when she’s in pain. Talk to other parents who’ve been through it who can assure you that it does eventually get better. Before you know it, your child will be flashing those cute teeth while she grins happily at you!

How to Soothe Teething Pain

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