FDA Warns About Medications Used for Teething

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One of the earliest, most uncomfortable conditions of infancy and toddlerhood is teething. While it may be tempting to reach for medication to ease your child’s pain, please learn more before you administer any medication in order to avoid a product-related injury to the child.

In particular, a June 2014 consumer update from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges parents to avoid prescription drugs such as viscous lidocaine in their efforts to alleviate their child’s teething discomfort.

What Is Viscous Lidocaine?

Viscous lidocaine is a local anesthetic. It is often prescribed to chemotherapy patients to numb painful mouth ulcers. Dentists also use it to lessen the gag reflex in children during X-rays.

However, data shows that pediatricians wrote 40,000 prescriptions of viscous lidocaine to alleviate teething pain in infants from 2008 to 2012, according to MedPage Today.

The drug can be dangerous and potentially deadly for infants and toddlers. Some may develop a rare, but potentially fatal condition called methemoglobinemia. This condition occurs when there is not enough oxygen in the bloodstream.

Even one application can cause the condition. Children under 2 are particularly at risk. In 2014, the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medical Practices received reports of 22 adverse events involving lidocaine and toddlers, including death.

Too much lidocaine can cause seizures, jitteriness, confusion, vomiting, brain injuries and damage to the cardiovascular and nervous systems, the FDA states.

Symptoms of methemoglobinemia include:

  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Light-headedness
  • Rapid heartbeat.

FDA Has Previously Warned about Teething Pain Relievers

The FDA’s current warning about viscous lidocaine is not the first time that the agency has warned against using pain relievers for teething. Previously, in May 2012, the FDA advised parents to stop using benzocaine for children under age 2 unless supervised by a health care provider.

Benzocaine is commonly found in numbing over-the-counter medications such as:

  • Baby Orajel
  • Orajel
  • Hurricaine
  • Anbesol
  • Orabase.

Doctors say science does not support the use of medication to treat teething discomfort anyway. Most of the medication washes out of the mouth in the first few minutes after application, which could quickly lead to renewed pain for the child.

In a desperate urge to soothe the child, parents may reapply lidocaine or benzocaine more frequently than directed. This can increase the risk of an overdose. Some parents have even been known to soak washcloths in the gel forms of the medication or include it in a baby’s formula, both of which are extremely dangerous practices.

Instead, the FDA advises parents to use simpler, non-medicinal strategies to help a teething child such as:

  • Massaging the mouth and gums with a finger
  • Providing the child with a cool (but not a frozen) teething ring or cool, damp washcloth to gnaw on.

At the law firm of James M. Poe, P.C., we urge parents to learn more information about the dangers of using medication for teething – and alternatives to medication – by checking out resources such as the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

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