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Hasbro Children’s Hospital Experts Warn against Using Topical Pain Medication on Babies’ Teething Gums


Both prescription and over-the-counter medicated gels may cause serious side effects

When babies are teething everyone is stressed – babies and parents. And in an attempt to soothe their baby’s pain, many parents often turn to topical pain medications to provide pain relief. But the pediatric experts at Hasbro Children’s Hospital are warning parents against using these medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, on infants as they can be harmful and cause injury to children.

“Teething is a normal part of an infant’s life and can be treated without the use of medication,” says Donald McKaig, RPh, CDOE, medication quality and safety specialist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. “Topical numbing medications rubbed on your child’s gums can be harmful if too much is used and the child swallows too much.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about the dangers of lidocaine for infants’ teething pain. Viscous lidocaine is a topical numbing medication that is only available by prescription. Lidocaine is not approved for use in infants for relief of teething pain and should, in fact, never be used in infants. So far in 2014, the FDA has reviewed 22 reports of infants and young children, between the ages of 5 months and 3.5 years, who have experienced serious and fatal side effects from the use of lidocaine.

“The risk to babies is that they may swallow some of the medication, which can numb their throat and cause difficulty swallowing and increase the risk of choking,” says McKaig. “If too much lidocaine is applied or a baby swallows too much, it can be toxic and cause severe damage to the heart and nervous system.” Symptoms of this damage can include jitteriness, confusion, vision problems, vomiting, falling asleep too easily, shaking and seizures.

Lidocaine isn’t the only numbing medication; there are a number of over-the-counter products that contain benzocaine, which the FDA also warns against. In 2011, the FDA warned that when used on babies for teething pain benzocaine products can lead to a rare but serious condition called methemoglobinemia. This condition causes a large decrease in the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood, which can be life-threatening. Some of the common names of products that contain this ingredient include Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, Orabase and various store brands.

McKaig recommends that parents and caregivers follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for alleviating a child’s tender and swollen gums, including:

  • Gently rub or massage the child’s gums with your finger.
  • Give your child a cool teething ring or a clean, wet, cool washcloth to chew on. Teething rings should be refrigerated for a short time so they are cool – not cold or frozen. Frozen teething rings can cause damage to the baby’s gums. Chewing on a cool teething ring will help to dull the nerves in the child’s gums, numbing the pain.
  • Additionally, to prevent accidental ingestion, securely store all medications including viscous lidocaine solution or benzocaine gels and liquids out of the reach of children.