Hallelujah, I’ve been saying I don’t like teething gels since 2010. This is a PSA for all parents out there trying to help soothe their teething baby. Today, the FDA came out and said avoid using over-the-counter teething products containing benzocaine. That means no teething gels like Anbesol, Baby Orajel, Cepacol, Chloraseptic, Hurricaine, Orabase, Orajel, Topex or other generic brands. The agency said “products containing the pain reliever benzocaine for the temporary relief of sore gums due to teething in infants or children should no longer be marketed and is asking companies to stop selling these products for such use. If companies do not comply, the FDA will initiate a regulatory action to remove these products from the market.”

This is great news for parents (and pediatricians who have been advising against it for years). In general, I think most pediatricians think of teething as a developmental milestone, not a condition that demands medicine. That being said, we always wanna make our babies, who may look uncomfortable, more comfortable. But the last thing we want to do is reach for something that might cause harm.

The reason to avoid teething gels? Benzocaine use can lead to methemoglobinemia, a rare, but dangerous condition that is the result of elevated levels of methemoglobin in the blood which can lead to death. Basically, when methemoglobin is present in the blood, it changes the way hemoglobin carries oxygen around the blood, preventing it from getting where it needs to go. This can lead to decreased oxygen levels and even death. A horrible, rare problem that can be provoked by benzocaine.

Instead of benzocaine products, try following the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations to help soothe your little one as their chompers come in:

  1. Use pressure and massage! Try gently rubbing or massaging the gums with one of your fingers.
  2. Cool comforts are great like wash cloths in the fridge or even chopped up, soft frozen fruit in a teething strainer. Teething rings are helpful, too, but they should be made of firm rubber. (The teethers that you freeze tend to get too hard and can cause more harm than good.)
  3. Pain relievers and medications that you rub on the gums are not necessary or useful since they wash out of the baby’s mouth within minutes. This includes the ones with benzocaine and the ones without!
  4. Stay away from teething tablets that contain the plant poison belladonna and of course as above, gels with benzocaine. Belladonna and benzocaine are marketed to numb your child’s pain, but the FDA has issued warnings against both due to potential side effects, and now they’ve gotten more serious with the ban.  Read my 2010 blog post on this topic here.
  5.  The AAP says, “If your child seems particularly miserable or has a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s probably not because she’s teething, and you should consult your pediatrician.” Here’s a short video on fever and teething. (Check out my short hair and bootleg video skills circa 2011).