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FDA Warns that Benzocaine Teething Products Aren’t Safe for Children

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What Are Benzocaine Teething Products?

Benzocaine teething products are products intended to help children with teething, the initial eruption of the deciduous (“baby”) teeth in the gums, which typically starts between the ages of four to six months. Benzocaine is a local anesthetic that was previously used to reduce pain for teething infants.

Benzocaine is largely considered safe for adults, and it appears in a wide range of products that are intended for adult use. In its unprocessed form, it is a white, odorless, crystalline powder. It commonly appears in ointments for sunburn and other topical skin products.

Benzocaine teething products have been widely available over the counter for many years as a solution for helping infants in the painful and very stressful teething process. In late May of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to consumers to discontinue their use right away.

Why Are Benzocaine Teething Products Now Considered Unsafe for Children?

Benzocaine teething products have been determined to be a serious health risk to young children. In particular, it is believed that using these products causes an elevated risk of a serious blood disorder called methemoglobinemia, which can be fatal.

In addition to the pronounced risks, research has also demonstrated that the proposed benefits of benzocaine teething products often don’t materialize. The chemical structure of benzocaine is such that it can wash out of the mouth very quickly and may have little effect.

What Is Methemoglobinemia and Why Is It Dangerous?

Methemoglobinemia is a disorder affecting the protein in red blood cells that distributes oxygen to tissues throughout the body. During this condition, oxygen continues to be carried throughout the body, but it cannot be released effectively to the cells that need it.

In cases of methemoglobinemia, overall blood oxygen level dips to extremely low levels. This results in severe symptoms such as:

  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Pale Skin
  • Blue or Gray Nails

Symptoms may begin within minutes of using a benzocaine teething product, but onset is often delayed by up to two hours. Babies experiencing any of these symptoms need immediate medical care.

Alternatives for Benzocaine Teething Products

A wide variety of alternatives to benzocaine teething products are available at pharmacies and other locations where infant care items are sold. Many companies have responded to the FDA warning by asserting that they will immediately discontinue the distribution of benzocaine products.

In general, experts recommend that parents consider hard rubber teething products that do not contain added anesthetics or other elements. Frozen teething toys should be avoided because they can damage an infant’s mouth. Rubbing the gums with a finger can provide temporary relief.

Do you have questions or concerns related to teething? It’s important to have the advice of a pediatric dentist you can trust. Developing a strong relationship with a dentist in the early years helps to ensure children will pursue sound dental health practices throughout life.

To learn more or set an appointment, contact Park View Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics.

Call (212) 879-6518 today or fill out the form on this page to request an appointment.

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