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Safety of Benzocaine Teething Products

A number of teething products contain benzocaine, an ingredient that may not be safe for your child. Benzocaine is not recommended for use in children under the age of two. This is due to the risk of methemoglobinemia, a rare but serious side effect. To help ensure your child's safety, consult their healthcare provider before using any gels, medications, or homeopathic remedies for teething.

Are Benzocaine Teething Products Safe?

Benzocaine is a common active ingredient found in over-the-counter (OTC) products; it is used as a local topical anesthetic that numbs the mouth and gums to help relieve pain from a variety of conditions, such as:
  • Teething
  • Canker sores
  • Irritation of the mouth or gums.
A variety of products, such as gels, liquids, swabs, and sprays, contain varying amounts of benzocaine. These products are popular for pain relief for teething children.
However, there is increasing concern in the medical community about the safety of the OTC benzocaine products. There have been reports of methemoglobinemia, a rare but very serious side effect of benzocaine products. In the most severe cases, it has even resulted in death.

Methemoglobinemia and Benzocaine

Methemoglobinemia is a condition in which the amount of oxygen carried through the bloodstream and into tissues is greatly reduced. This is because too much of the hemoglobin in red blood cells becomes unable to attach to and carry oxygen. This occurrence has been reported with products of all strengths of benzocaine and has been seen as soon as after the first application or after additional use. It may not even be related to the amount applied.
These cases most commonly occurred in children two years old or younger who were given a benzocaine gel product for teething. Infants under four months old may be at an even greater risk for developing methemoglobinemia. Therefore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that benzocaine products not be used in children two years old or younger, except under the advice and supervision of a healthcare provider.
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