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Teething painkiller: Attention moms, FDA says stop using teething painkillers

Teething / Wikimedia Commons

Teething painkillers and other gum-numbing applications are getting a strong warning from the FDA this week. The local anesthetics, applied to an infant’s gums when they are teething, can cause serious harm and even death, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautioned.

The Consumer Update, released by the FDA on June 26, says “there are more theories about teething and ‘treating’ a baby's sore gums than there are teeth in a child's mouth,” but advises that teething is a “normal part of childhood that can be treated without prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.”

An excerpt from the FDA report:

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—which, like viscous lidocaine, is a local anesthetic—can be found in such 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.

Writes MSN Healthy Living:

There have been reports of teething babies suffering overdoses of viscous lidocaine, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. The FDA noted that in 2014 it received 22 reports of serious incidents, including deaths, tied to use of viscous lidocaine in babies and toddlers under three and a half years of age.

The FDA now requires a warning on the label of all prescription oral viscous lidocaine cautioning against its use in babies and small children for teething pain.

According to the, teething occurs when primary teeth start to work their way through an infant’s gums between 6 and 24 months of age.

Symptoms of teething include mild gum pain only. The site cautions that teething does “not cause fever, diarrhea, diaper rash, ill appearance or lowered resistance to infection,” and that wrongly prescribing such symptoms to teething delays proper diagnosis of what could be more serious concerns.

If your child's gums are swollen and tender, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you simply massage the gums gently with a clean finger, or give your child something cool and wet to chew on, such as a washcloth or teething ring.

“The cool object acts like a very mild local anesthetic,” says Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D., a pediatrician at FDA. “This is a great relief for children for a short time.”

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