Do you have a teething baby at home? Better not give them viscous lidocaine to treat their pain, according to a new consumer update from the FDA. A well-known local anesthetic, lidocaine has been used in the past to numb babies’ gums by either putting the chemical on a pacifier or rubbing it into the mouth using the fingers. However, the FDA reports that the medication has caused babies to suffer brain injuries, heart problems, seizures and even death when swallowed.
Lidocaine is a prescription drug that is used most often to treat throat or mouth ulcers, often in chemotherapy patients. It may also be used to minimize a child’s gag reflex while undergoing dental work. Despite its prescription-only status, parents or grandparents who have it on hand might be tempted to give it to a child suffering from teething pain.
The new warnings are partly due to reports that were evaluated by the FDA just this year. The agency reported 22 serious reactions to lidocaine so far in 2014, some of them even leading to death. The incidents usually involved children aged 5 months to 3.5 years.
Never Use Topical Medicines On a Teething Baby
The FDA maintains that topical creams and similar medications that numb oral pain should never be used on a baby. They’ve already warned against the use of products that contain benzocaine gels in children under the age of two. Similarly to lidocaine, benzocaine gels relieve mouth pain by causing numbness, but the FDA has warned that ingestion of benzocaine could cause a rare but dangerous condition known as methemoglobinemia. This potentially fatal disorder causes the blood stream to carry a reduced amount of oxygen throughout the body. Over-the-counter medications that contain benzocaine include:
- Baby Orajel
Aside from well-meaning caregivers, doctors have prescribed viscous lidocaine to infants quite often over the past few years. The FDA is now planning on issuing black box warnings on the medication, alerting users to the potentially fatal risk it presents for babies.
Safe Teething Methods
The FDA has stated that local anesthetics are not only dangerous when used in a baby’s mouth, but they’re also ineffective. Medication rubbed on a child’s gums will wash out of the mouth in minutes. So, what are some safe ways of dealing with a child’s teething pain? Try these:
- Let the child chew on a teething ring
- Rub the child’s gums with your finger
- Let the child chew on a cool (not cold), wet washcloth
- Put a spoon in the fridge (not the freezer!) and place the rounded part on the gums
- Try using a plush, rubber, or even wood toy specifically made for teething
- Engage in fun activities that might distract the baby from their pain
- Feed them cool, soft foods
Always supervise your baby while they chew on teething products. For more suggestions, visit the Mayo Clinic’s teething page.
Lidocaine and Teething: The Bottom Line
Make sure that family members, babysitters or anyone else who might end up taking care of your teething baby knows that viscous lidocaine should never be used in the child’s mouth. If there’s any chance that your child ingested such medications, seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms of an overdose include confusion, vomiting, jitteriness, vision problems, seizures, shaking and falling asleep with unusual ease. While teething is often a difficult, painful and sleepless time for you and your baby, remember that it is ultimately temporary. It’s best to ride out the pain with natural methods rather than to risk using adult medications on an infant.