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FDA: Teething gels with benzocaine not safe for infants

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning to parents regarding the use of over-the-counter teething gels containing benzocaine for infants.

Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic that was previously marketed to parents for relief of a young child's pain from teething, sore throat, canker sores or gum irritation.

Since the warning was issued, the FDA has issued letters to companies who manufacture teething products with benzocaine asking them to no longer market or sell them for such use.

According to Eva Kubiczek-Love, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Childrens, not only is there no evidence that benzocaine can actually help relieve teething pain, but it can also cause serious complications for young children.

It can actually induce a phenomenon called methemoglobinemia, which can be potentially fatal, she said. What can happen is the oxygen-carrying cells in the bloodstream can become altered and they cant carry oxygen anymore, so children can obviously suffer horribly from something like this. 

Side effects of methemoglobinemia include shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, lightheadedness and rapid heart rate.

Dr. Kubiczek-Love said these side effects can happen after a first use, or after multiple uses and can sometimes not occur until hours later.

If a baby is experiencing teething pain, she said the best thing that parents can do is give their baby a cold, but not frozen, teething toy to chew on.

Dr. Kubiczek-Love said the FDA website has information for parents on which medications are safe to take at which ages.

She recommends parents make sure they have all the facts before giving any medication to their child for the first time.

"If you are in the store and you have your hand on a bottle of something you've never given your child before, and you have your phone, you can look at the FDA website, or if you're very concerned, call your pediatrician right then and there before you even buy it," she said.

Dr. Kubiczek-Love said its important for parents to know that just because a product is sold in the store, it doesn't mean that its necessarily safe for infants, so its always a good idea to call the child's pediatrician if there is uncertainty about any product.