Is Teething Gel Safe for Infants? – Unfold the Truth

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The eruption of the first set of primary teeth in a baby’s mouth is one of the most significant milestones in their life. It is an event of immense joy and happiness for the parents. However, this event can sometimes be uncomfortable for your baby. Babies begin teething between four to eight months of age.

Often, the process of teething is painful and brings a variety of symptoms along with it, which can make the baby sick. Some of the symptoms may include, swelling and pain in the gums, a rise in body temperature, drooling, and a change in sleep patterns. Teething is an unavoidable stage in the baby’s life. But as parents, you can help your child by soothing the process of teething in many ways.

One of the most common and easiest methods that parents have adopted is to use teething anesthetic gels. Rubbing teething gel onto the inflamed and tender gums of the child may seem like the best option. However, this product can prove to be harmful to your child’s health.

Anesthetic gels for teething usually contain a component called Benzocaine. Benzocaine has clinically shown to cause a rare blood disorder called methemoglobinemia. Let’s continue to read further and find out more about the use of teething gels and see if these gels are safe to use.

What is teething?

Teething is a process that precedes the infant’s tooth eruption. This process is also termed as ‘cutting teeth’ as the teeth erupt through the gums without cutting the gingival tissue. (1)

Teething is considered as one of the milestones in a baby’s life. However, this process can be uncomfortable for the child.

Some of the common symptoms of teething include –

  • Tenderness around the gums (2)
  • Gum swelling
  • Slightly elevated temperature
  • Diarrhea
  • Oral infection
  • A fuzzy and irritated behavior of the child
  • An urge to bite on hard objects

To make this process more convenient and comfortable for the baby, people use teething toys, pain relievers, etc. One of the conventional types is a topical teething anesthetic gel.

But most of these over-the-counter medications and gels can be harmful to the baby’s health. (3)

What are teething gels?

Teething gels are topical anesthetic applications that are commonly used by the parents to soothe the pain of their child during teething. The most commonly used teething gels are anbesol, orajel, orabase, and hurricane. These all short term pain relievers and should be used for children above two years of age.

Usually, the product pack provides all the instructions that are to be followed while applying the gel. However, a doctor or a pharmacist can help to direct the parents on the correct usage of teething gel. Some of the precautions that you must keep in mind while applying teething gel are –

  • Restrict the application to a maximum of four times a day unless directed by the doctor.
  • Apply the gel and allow it to stay for at least one minute.
  • Use small amounts of gel only on the area of concern.
  • Do not let the eyes come in contact with the gel accidentally.
  • If you notice symptoms like rash, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, and swelling, contact the doctor immediately and stop the use of the teething gel.

Are teething gels safe for infants?

Most of the teething gels available over-the-counter contain Benzocaine as the local anesthetic agent. This active ingredient rapidly reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. In severe forms, it causes a rare form of a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia. (4)

In this condition, the hemoglobin is restricted from releasing oxygen to the tissues. This oxygen deprivation to the body tissues like the brain and heart can result in the death of the patient. Symptoms of this blood disorder include –

  • Pale or greyish discoloration of the lips and skin
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Light-headedness
  • Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate

These symptoms may appear either after the first application of Benzocaine or after several uses.

The Food and Drug Administration has refrained the use of teething gels containing Benzocaine. Moreover, it declared the use of these products as not useful since the topical application washes away or can be swallowed easily and quickly.

What are the safe alternatives to relieve teething pain?

One of the best alternatives to relieve teething pain is to give your child a chilled, but not frozen teething toy. Make sure the teething toy does not have any additional small attachments that may separate in the mouth and choke the child.

The cold compression from the chilled teething ring will numb the area on the gums and relieve pain and discomfort. You can also use your finger to rub the gums to provide the sootiness. If your child still feels discomfort, consult your pediatrician to rule out any other causes of distress. Additionally, ask them about the use of a child dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Take away message

Teething is a natural and unavoidable process of tooth eruption in the baby’s mouth. Most of the time, this process is painful and uncomfortable for the infant.

The teething gel may prove to be very useful in soothing the process of teething for the baby. However, it can be hazardous for the health of the baby. The majority of the teething gels available in the market contain Benzocaine as one of the active anesthetic agents.

Benzocaine reacts with the red blood cells and reduces their oxygen-carrying capacity. As a result, the organs in the body, mainly the brain and heart become oxygen-deprived. The health condition is clinically termed as methemoglobinemia.

This condition can prove to be fatal and lead to death. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration has refrained the use of such products. The best way is to provide a chilled but not frozen teething ring to the baby. You can also consult your pediatrician for additional help to relieve teething pain.

Sukanya has done BDS. She is a dentist, a blogger, an extrovert, and a travel enthusiast. She is also a spiritual believer. When she is not working, you can find her reading books.