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Teething Medication Can Cause Infant Death, Warns FDA

Tim Boyer's picture

The honeymoon months of having a new baby in the home are the first few months when a healthy infant eats, sleeps, and poops pretty much nonstop 24/7. The honeymoon ends afterward when new developmental events emerge such as erupting teeth arriving like milestones along a pink roadway as a baby enters the teething stage where anything and everything becomes a chew toy to relieve gum pain and irritation.

The signs of teething include:

• Being cranky or irritable
• Biting or chewing on objects
• Drooling
• Gum swelling, reddening and tenderness
• Refusing to eat
• Difficulty sleeping

Many parents reach for over-the-counter medications to provide additional gum pain relief to calm a cranky infant because…well, because we are parents with a cranky infant in the house and we need to do something quick before one of us resorts to eating our young out of tiredness and frustration. You know, like when nature overcomes nurture as shown on Animal Planet.

One pain-reliving resource available for infants with teething pain is benzocaine—a low strength local anesthetic that does not require a prescription. Benzocaine for relieving teething pain can be found in products such as Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, and Orabase.

However, according to an FDA Consumer Update, over-the-counter benzocaine-containing teething medications can result in serious damage and even death in some infants.

Benzocaine can cause a rare but lethal medical condition called “methemoglobinemia,” in which oxygen levels in the blood are significantly decreased. A significant decrease in oxygen levels can lead to brain damage and destruction of tissues from oxygen starvation.

According to the FDA, symptoms of methemoglobinemia include:

• pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds
• shortness of breath
• fatigue
• confusion
• headache
• light-headedness
• rapid heart rate

“Symptoms can occur within minutes to hours after benzocaine use,” says FDA pharmacist Mary Ghods, R.Ph. “They can occur after using the drug for the first time, as well as after several uses.”

The FDA advises parents that if an infant has been given a teething medication and shows any of the aforementioned symptoms of oxygen deprivation, to seek medical help immediately by calling 911.

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Medline Plus—a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine—offers the following alternative tips for easing an infant’s teething pain:

• Wipe your baby's face with a cloth to remove the drool and prevent a rash.

• Give your infant a cool object to chew on, such as a firm rubber teething ring or a cold apple. Avoid liquid-filled teething rings, or any plastic objects that might break.

• Gently rub the gums with a cool, wet washcloth, or (until the teeth are right near the surface) a clean finger. You may place the wet washcloth in the freezer first, but wash it before using it again.

• Feed your child cool, soft foods such as applesauce or yogurt (if your baby is eating solids).

• Use a bottle, if it seems to help, but only fill it with water. Formula, milk, or juice can all cause tooth decay.

For more information about the teething process in infants, a detailed description about the stages of tooth eruption and infant teething care can be found at MedicineNet.com.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia


FDA Consumer Updates: “Benzocaine and Babies: Not a Good Mix”

Medline Plus: Teething

MedicineNet.com: Teething