What not to give to your teething baby

It was 3 a.m. when my youngest daughter, who will turn 1 soon, woke me up crying last month. Colette had been sleeping consistently through the night for the past few months. But now there was teething. Lately, she drooled more and ate less. I immediately grabbed Baby Orajel in hopes that it would help relieve her sore gums.

What I didn't know until recently is that the local anesthetic, benzocaine, found in Baby Orajel can lead to a rare, but serious condition called methemoglobinemia. It’s a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced. In the most severe cases, it can lead to death.

Since the Food and Drug Administration first warned about potential dangers in 2006, the agency has received 29 reports of benzocaine gel-related cases of methemoglobinemia.  Nineteen of those cases occurred in children, and 15 of the 19 cases occurred in children under 2 years of age, according to the FDA. Benzocaine can be found in such over-the-counter products such as Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, and Orabase.

Parents may have difficulty in recognizing the signs and symptoms of methemoglobinemia when using these products at home, the FDA says. These symptoms may not always be evident or attributed to the condition. They include:

  • pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • headache
  • light-headedness
  • rapid heart rate

The FDA reports the symptoms can occur within minutes to hours after benzocaine use, and after using the drug for the first time, or even after several uses.

Although rare, I’ve decided to stop using Baby Orajel and turn to some other methods. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends trying to gently rub or massage the gums with a finger, and teething rings made of firm rubber. Now let’s hope that Colette (and I) can get some sleep!