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Drop That Baby Teething Medicine! Why the FDA Is Taking Action

Photograph by Twenty20

Just because a product is marketed to babies doesn't mean it's actually safe for babies. This is especially true with over-the-counter teething products that parents might be using to help relieve their child's teething pain.

Gels, sprays, ointments, solutions and lozenges under brand names Anbesol, Baby Orajel, Cepacol, Chloraseptic, HurriCaine, Orabase, Orajel and Topex, for instance, contain the drug benzocaine. If you have teething products with benzocaine for children, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advising you to drop it now.

The FDA issued the warning this week, saying the popular local anesthetic is a potentially deadly ingredient. In addition to these products not being effective (as they can wash out of the mouth quickly), they also pose a serious risk to infants and children, especially those 2 years old and younger.

The FDA has been warning about teething products with benzocaine for more than a decade, but reports of illnesses and deaths have continued. The agency is now asking manufacturers to stop selling the teething products and will take legal action against companies that don't remove the products aimed at babies and toddlers. Products for adults can remain on the market, but the FDA wants companies to add new warnings about benzocaine's association with the blood condition methemoglobinemia.

Methemoglobinemia occurs when the oxygen level in blood dips dangerously low and can be fatal. In March, a Virginia mom warned against teething gels when she applied a pea-sized amount of Baby Orajel on her toddler's gums. Her child "immediately turned red, started kicking, got one or two screams in, and 10 to 15 seconds after the Orajel touched her gums, she became unresponsive." Thankfully, after another 15 to 20 seconds, the toddler woke up screaming and crying, and was examined by emergency medical responders.

Other symptoms of methemoglobinemia include rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, sleepiness, headache, skin that is pale and nails that are blue or gray. Children who experience these symptoms, which can start minutes after a product is used or up to a couple of hours later, should get medical attention immediately.

If you're in teething hell, this mom swears by her pacifier hack or try these tried-and-true teething remedies.

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