Teething Babies do Not Need Medicine on their Gums: The Dangers of Viscous Lidocaine

First Posted: Jun 27, 2014 11:09 AM EDT

Health officials are warning parents that a common oral anesthetic often used to help teething infants could be dangerous.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many caregivers who use benzocaine products for children under 2 should discontinue the medication's use, an ingredient that's commonly found in the products Anbesol, Baby Orajel, Hurricaine and Orabase.

"Teething is a normal phenomenon; all babies teethe," said Ethan Hausman, M.D., a pediatrician and pathologist at FDA, in a news release. "FDA does not recommend any sort of drug, herbal or homeopathic medication or therapy for teething children."

Unfortunately, many parents have been known to give fussy babies benzocaine, also known as viscious lidocaine, by soaking a pacifier in the formula. However, this can be particularly dangerous as the amount of medicine used is not measured.  In rare cases, it can even lead to a sometimes fatal condition called methemoglobinemia, in which the amount of oxygen carried throughout the blood stream is compromised. 

If a child's gums are swollen or tender, the FDA recommends massaging them with fingers or giving the child a "cool teething ring or a clean, wet, cool washcloth to chew on."

"The cool object acts like a very mild local anesthetic," said Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D., a pediatrician at FDA, in the release. "This is a great relief for children for a short time."

However, parents should always supervise children who are busy chewing on a teething ring or wash cloth for relief in order to prevent a potential choking-hazard. 

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