When babies start to get teeth, it can be painful–and no parent wants to see their baby suffer! But teething gels have risks as well as benefits.
Many parents reach for Orajel or Baby Orajel, which are teething gels that contain benzocaine. They hope these drugs will soothe sore gums.
But many parents don’t realize that benzocaine can be harmful to babies, children, and adults. 
Benzocaine can cause a rare but serious condition called methemoglobinemia. It’s just as scary as it sounds—it causes low levels of oxygen in the blood and can be deadly. At least 29 people have developed methemoglobinemia because of benzocaine gel. Fifteen of them were infants (under two years of age).
When considering any medical treatment for children, parents should always ask the question: “do the risks outweigh the benefits?” Don’t assume that if it is sold in your local drug store or online it must be safe. Although the risks of benzocaine gel are very rare, they are also very serious. Allergic reactions are also possible, which can cause swelling of the tongue, lips or throat.
Lidocaine can also be dangerous, and so can so-called “natural” or homeopathic remedies. Fortunately, there are better treatments for teething and they are free!
What Can I Do to Do Help with Teething
Instead of using Orajel or any other teething medications, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to give their child a soft teething ring or pacifier that has been stored in the fridge (not frozen!) for some quick relief. Another safe alternative is to simply massage your child’s gums.
What Symptoms to Watch For
If your child has used Orajel or another medication with benzocaine, here are the symptoms of methemoglobinemia:
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds
- Trouble breathing
- Racing heartbeat
If you notice any of these symptoms after using Orajel or any product containing benzocaine, go see a physician as soon as possible.
Benzocaine Can Be Dangerous for Adults Too!
Adults can also become seriously ill from Oragel or other products with benzocaine. Before using products like Orajel, be sure to talk to your doctor. If you have heart disease, are a smoker, or have breathing problems, you should definitely avoid these drugs.
Other ways to avoid a bad reaction:
- Use benzocaine gels and liquids only at the recommended dosage and only when needed.
- Read the label to see if benzocaine is an active ingredient when buying over-the-counter products at your local supermarket or drug store.
- Put any products with benzocaine out of the reach of children.
- Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
All articles on our website have been approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.