What Not to Use for Teething Pain

Benzocaine products for teething pain pose small but serious risk to children under 2

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Perhaps the only thing worse than dealing with a teething child is not knowing how to lessen the pain. Yet one of the most common medical remedies might not be best for your little one.

The Food and Drug Administration has put out warnings about the potential dangers of using the anesthetic called benzocaine.

This medication is generally found in over-the-counter pain-relievers like Orajel and Baby Orajel, Anbesol, Hurricaine and Orabase.

"Try natural pain relievers like ice and frozen fruit for teething pain."

While most children can tolerate the pain-relieving chemical without any problems, a small few may experience a rare condition called methemoglobinemia.

Methemoglobinemia occurs when the body's blood stream no longer carries a sufficient amount of oxygen. It's very serious and can sometimes cause death, according to FDA pharmacist Mary Ghods.

Children under 2 years old appear to be most at risk for experiencing the methemoglobinemia from use of benzocaine.

Though the agency began warning consumers about benzocaine use in babies as early as 2006, the FDA recently issued a consumer update to remind parents of the risks of using products with the substance. They recommend that these products not be used for children under 2 except when advised by a medical professional.

Since 2006, 29 cases of methemoglobinemia related to use of benzocaine have been reported to the FDA, and 19 of the cases involved children. All but four of these were children under age 2.

“Symptoms can occur within minutes to hours after benzocaine use,” Ghods said. “They can occur after using the drug for the first time, as well as after several uses.”

Symptoms of methemoglobinemia include shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, headache, light-headedness, a rapid heart beat and pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds.

The FDA recommends that parents who notice any of these symptoms in their child following use of benzocaine should call 911. A delay in treatment could result in permanent brain damage or damage to the body tissues, as well as death.

For parents seeking ways to relieve their children's teething pain, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving the child a chilled teething ring or gently rubbing the child's gums with a finger.

Popular home remedies include giving the child a frozen washcloth to chew on or frozen fruit in a mesh bag.

Adults who have heart disease, are smokers or have breathing conditions like asthma, bronchitis or emphysema should also talk to a doctor before using benzocaine products because they are at greater risk for methemoglobinemia complications, according to FDA pharmacist Kellie Taylor.

The FDA's consumer report on benzocaine was updated May 31.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 30, 2012
Last Updated:
August 21, 2012