I have to admit, Conner was a real trooper when it came to teething. We mainly gave some Tylenol and he went about his teething business. So, I never used a teething gel to get him through what I assume to be a painful situation.
Imagine my surprise when I read an article that the FDA is advising against the use of teething gels. Wha? And what the heck can teething gels possibly have to do with the brain? Glad you asked!
According to the FDA, the main ingredient in teething gels (pretty much any over-the-counter brand) is benzocaine. The problem is that there is a portion of the population that can develop methemoglobinemia after benzocaine exposure. Methemoglobinemia can be inherited, but is mainly caused by things in our environment like drugs (benzocaine) and chemicals (nitrates in deli meats), etc. Simply defined, methemoglobinemia is the inability for hemoglobin to carry the oxygenated blood to tissue. And now enter the effects on the brain. If tissue is deprived for oxygen long enough, it is deprived of essential nutrients carried in the blood. The end result is that the tissue cannot survive. Along with seizure and fatality, stroke is also a possibility. If the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients long enough, you will have permanent neurological damage, hence stroke.
Although I could not find an actual statistic, all of the reports said methemoglobinemia is RARE.
But even more surprising is that there is a growing number if pediatricians that don’t think teething actually hurts. They think that (like the vaccine/autism debate), anecdotal situations and old wives tales have led to the notion that it must be painful. Maybe the fever, rash, drool, fussiness happened around the same time, but were not related to the actual teething? Babies are, well, fussy. And Conner and Violet seem to be on a mission to saturate the world with their drool independent of teething.
So my final thoughts are that if you still want to give teething gel with benzocaine I am sure your kid will be fine. However, there are probably many other strategies used by parents that are free of benzocaines and are probably FREE (ice, wash cloth put in the freezer, your finger…).
Here is a link to the FDA report.