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Teething can make babies miserable, which is why many parents turn to over-the-counter numbing gels to provide relief. But a new report from the Food and Drug Administration recommends parents stop using products such as Orajel, Anbesol, Orabase and similar products on children younger than 2 years old "except under the advice and supervision of a health care professional." That's because they contain the numbing agent benzocaine, which can cause a serious blood disorder called methemoglobinemia.
While rare, the disorder triggers a dangerous drop in the level of oxygen in the blood, which can cause a child to have shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, blue-colored skin, fatigue, confusion and in severe cases, even death.
According to the FDA, since 2006 there have been 29 reports of benzocaine gel-related methemoglobinemia cases and the under-2 set is particularly vulnerable. "Symptoms can occur within minutes to hours after benzocaine use," says FDA pharmacist Kellie Taylor, Pharm.D., MPH in an FDA Consumer Update. "They can occur after using the drug for the first time, as well as after several uses." If your child has any of these symptoms after using benzocaine, call 911 immediately.
The FDA first raised a red flag in 2006, then again in 2011. If your little one is experiencing teething pain, try gently rubbing or massaging her gums with one of your (clean) fingers, handing her a frozen washcloth to gnaw on or placing chunks of frozen fruit or bagel in a baby safe feeder, like Munchkin Fresh Food Feeders. While you can give her a firm, rubber teething ring, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you avoid the kind that you freeze: They can get too hard and actually hurt your baby's sensitive gums.