Parents should not use the prescription drug lidocaine, or any other drug, to treat teething pains in babies. The message was loud and clear in an statement from the FDA released on June 26.
Teething is a painful but normal part of growing up. However, drugs marketed to ease teething pain may be causing more harm than good to children. The FDA reported that serious symptoms have been associated with lidocaine overdose in infants, including confusion, vomiting, and even seizures. For something as harmless as teething, the drug isn't worth the risk.
"Teething is a normal phenomenon; all babies teethe," says Ethan Hausman, M.D., a pediatrician and pathologist at FDA. "FDA does not recommend any sort of drug, herbal or homeopathic medication or therapy for teething in children."
Doctors advise against using any kind of local anesthetic to treat teething pain. Dr. Henry Schaeffer, a professor of pediatrics at SUNY Downstate, said, "From the way they act during teething, babies appear to be in pain, but we don't really know what's going on in their heads. For teething, age-old remedies like giving them a cold carrot stick to gnaw on is the best. I'm not a big fan of drugs in general."
Dr. Schaeffer said that small amounts of drugs like lidocaine are probably not the most harmful to infants, but the problem is "the baby may keep crying and the mother may keep applying the drug," Schaeffer said. Dentists sometimes use viscous lidocaine to reduce the gag reflex in children during X-ray and dental impressions; however, if using the drug to treat teething, that could be a very harmful side effect for babies. Michael R. Cohen, the president of the Institute for Safe Medicine, told the FDA that overuse of viscous lidocaine in infants "can make swallowing difficult and can increase the risk of choking or breathing in food. It can lead to drug toxicity and affect the heart and nervous system."
The FDA has already advised against the use of benzocaine products for children under 2, except when advised by a medical professional. These products cause unnecessary risk to teething infants.
There are other methods parents can use to soothe their children's teeth, such as giving them carrot stick or a chilled, but not frozen, teething ring or washcloth to chew. The cold provides temporary relief and numbing the same way lidocaine does, but without the risk of harmful side effects. Parents may also massage the child's gum.