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There are many theories about teething and treating a baby’s sore gums than there are teeth in a child’s mouth. One thing doctors and other health care professionals agree on is that teething is a normal part of childhood that can be treated without prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Too often well-meaning parents, grandparents and caregivers want to soothe a teething baby by rubbing numbing medications on the tot’s gums, using potentially harmful drugs instead of safer, non-toxic alternatives.
That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning parents that prescription drugs such as viscous lidocaine are not safe for treating teething in infants or young children and that they have hurt some children who used those products.
FDA has previously recommended that parents and caregivers not use benzocaine products for children younger than 2 years, except under the advice and supervision of a health care professional.
Benzocaine like viscous lidocaine, is a local anesthetic which can be found in OTC products as Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, and Orabase. The use of benzocaine gels and liquids for mouth and gum pain can lead to a rare but serious and sometimes fatal condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced and children under 2 years old appear to be at particular risk.
Numbing medications can interfere with swallowing and increase the risk of choking and aspiration. Babies can also overdose on viscous lidocaine. Symptoms associated with a lidocaine overdose can include jitteriness, confusion, vomiting, sleepiness, and seizures. Lidocaine overdose can also adversely affect the heart and nervous system. Viscous lidocaine is often prescribed to adults and older children to treat mouth ulcers. Parents then reach for this medication when a baby is teething. This can be very dangerous and viscous lidocaine should never be used to treat teething pain.
The FDA stated that in 2014, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) has already been notified of 22 viscous lidocaine related incidents involving children under the age of three and a half. Some of these cases resulted in death. The FDA will now require all prescription viscous lidocaine products to carry a warning label regarding the dangers of using this medication on toddlers.
Benzocaine teething products are over the counter and the FDA recommends that these products should not be used in children under the age of two.
Michael Cohen, President of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices warned that viscous lidocaine can produce swallowing difficulties and even chocking, besides affections to the heart and nervous system.
The FDA said overdoses or accidental swallowing have led many infants and children to seeking admissions in hospitals or dying.Also, the FDA said that it is useless to rub pain relievers and medications because they wash out of the bay’s mouth within minutes.
“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.”
This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.