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Your Teethers May Not Actually Be 'BPA-Free' and 'Non-Toxic'

Photograph by Twenty20

Teething is the actual worst.

I don’t care what you have to say about the newborn weeks or your threenager. After having experienced teething twice now, I’m convinced it is the hardest part of parenting during the early years. I feel like, during other phases of the first few years of parenting, you learn to expect certain things, but when your kid is teething, all bets are off. (While studies don't directly tie teething to sleep disturbances, fevers or diarrhea, my “good sleeper” came down with all three afflictions. Ugh.)

Worst of all, is knowing that your baby is in pain but feeling as if everything you’ve tried to help them feel better is failing. My third is on the cusp of this phase and I’m dreading it, especially since one of my favorite helpers for teething pain might be doing more harm than good.

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As it turns out, many of the teethers found in the baby aisle include toxic chemicals, even the one labeled “BPA-free” or “non-toxic.” A study by Dr. Kurunthachalam Kannan of New York State Department of Health discovered that BPA and other endocrine-disrupting compounds (a variety of chemicals that can potentially interfere with hormones) were present in nearly all of the 59 teethers that were tested.

I know I can’t protect my kids from every toxin in the environment, but this is something they put in their mouth, for crying out loud.

“Almost 90 percent of the teethers we bought were labeled as BPA-free, but we found BPA in almost every product and most were labeled as non-toxic. We were finding more than 15 to 20 toxic chemicals in all of the them,” said Kannan.

I know I can’t protect my kids from every toxin in the environment, but this is something they put in their mouth, for crying out loud. If they’re going to slap a label of "BPA-free" or "non-toxic" on a product, shouldn’t manufactures be doing their part to actually live up to this promise?

It is important that the products our kids chew on are free of endocrine-disrupting compounds because of the long-term effects repeated exposure could have on their health. Any chemical that interferes with the body’s endocrine system is considered to be an endocrine disruptor. The effects vary, but could create problems for the reproductive system, immune system and nervous system, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services.

Officials from the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association, said in a statement that the study "provides very little useful information for the parents of young children, as it focuses on the mere presence of chemicals, which parents should be reassured does not equate with harm. It should be noted that all the chemicals studied here are shown to be at extremely low exposure levels and well-below government set safe levels." And as for the BPA findings, "any reporting of this study should clearly point out that the exposures reported are two to three orders of magnitude lower than the stringent safe intake limit established by the European Food Safety Authority. Additionally, we are not aware of any use for BPA or materials made from BPA being used in teethers.”

Even though the levels of these chemicals found in the teethers didn’t cross the threshold provided by regulations for other products, the study's author still believes there is reason for concern, especially since regulations created to limit the presence of chemicals and toxins in products aren’t created with babies in mind and don’t take into account repeated exposure to the same teether or exposure to multiple teethers could result in result in overexposure.

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Hopefully, studies like these will be a kick in the pants for the companies who market their products to babies. As a mom, it is worrisome to know that a teether I relied on for my older kids could negatively impact their health later on in their life. And, with a 3-month-old in my home, I’m scrambling for new ideas for helping with his teething pain when the time comes. Since reading this study, I’m not so sure I can trust anything labeled “BPA-free” or “non-toxic,” so it looks like I’ll be relying on old faith, the frozen washcloth, from now on.

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