Teething gels are usually subscribed to a teething baby after every method has been tried and tested with little relief. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, this innocuous looking tube of gum pain relief could have dire effects on your little baby.
That’s because one of the active ingredients in teething gels is benzocaine, an anaesthetic that the FDA claims can cause a rare but potentially serious condition called methemoglobinemia.
What is Methemoglobinemia?
Methemoglobinemia is a blood disorder wherein the body produces a copious amount of methemoglobin, which is a form of hemoglobin that is unable to carry and release oxygen effectively to the body.
There are two types of methemoglobinemia:
- Inherited methemoglobinemia, which can be passed down through families; and
- Acquired methemoglobinemia, which can be caused by exposure to anaesthetics like benzocaine, benzene (chemical found in gasoline and other fuels), certain antibiotics including dapsone and chloroquine, and nitrites (used as additives to prevent spoilage in meats).
Symptoms of Acquired Methemoglobinemia
Acquired methemoglobinemia, which a child can get from teething gels that contain benzocaine, is more common than inherited methemoglobinemia. In the event that you do use the teething gel on your child with a doctor’s approval, here are some symptoms of acquired methemoglobinemia to look out for:
- Bluish, grey or pale lips and nail beds
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of energy
- Rapid heart rate
These symptoms can appear within minutes of application. If any of these symptoms appear in your baby after application of the teething gel, it is recommended that you take him to the Emergency Room immediately.
Safer Alternatives for Teething Relief
Considering the potential risk involved in using teething gels, try these alternative methods to relieve your child’s teething pains:
- Massage your baby’s gums with your finger. Just make sure to wash your finger first, and then gently apply pressure on the gums.
- Give your baby a teething ring to chew on. If you don’t want to use your finger, a teething ring can help apply counterpressure on the swollen gums.
- Give your baby a cold drink. For babies 6 months old and over and have been introduced to water, a nice cold bottle of icy water may do the trick. If your baby doesn’t take the bottle, you can try serving water in a cup or dipping a clean cloth in icy water and rubbing the cloth on the gums.
- Let your baby eat cold food. Yogurt or chilled fruit would help relieve the pain – and provide nutrition at the same time!
Additionally, the usefulness of a teething gel is negligible as it is easily washed away or licked away by your baby once it is applied on their swollen gums.
To learn more about why teething gels might not be the best option for your child, check out the video below.