September 2, 2014 5:29 pm

Doctors, pharmacists warn parents to stay away from teething gels

Mom Claire said five month old Polly will soon be teething.

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – Doctors and pharmacists in Halifax are warning parents not to reach for teething gel for their babies.

Claire Gallant, 32, holds onto five-month-old Polly, who squirms in her mother’s arms.

Gallant said her second child is drooling a lot, in what she figures to be a sign of things to come.

“She’s always soaked and I think that means her teeth are coming in,” she said.

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Gallant said she will give her baby a rubber ring to chew on or perhaps children’s Tylenol or ibuprofen if the pain becomes too much. But she won’t be using teething gel.

“There’s this negativity around gels, which is why I would hesitate,” she said.

And that hesitancy is well-founded – Health Canada issued a warning three years ago that topical benzocaine products, which include teething gels, can have serious side effects.

Reported side effects include irregular heartbeats, body twitching, trouble breathing and, in rare cases, a serious blood condition that can sometimes be fatal.

IWK Chief of Dentistry Dr. Ross Anderson said teething is normal and natural for babies but he recommends staying away from teething gels.

“What concerns us mostly about the teething gels is that it’s hard to dose them and often will freeze a little one’s throat,” he said.

“It just doesn’t freeze over the gums and so it presents a choking hazard. The other problem is that too much of the teething gel can cause a problem with the baby’s blood’s ability to carry oxygen.”

Health Canada has received seven reports of serious adverse reactions involving topical benzocaine.

“There have been reported incidents of these issues with babies either freezing their throat and having bad choking episodes that can be life-threatening,” Anderson said.

“They’re not good medications to use at all. We’d rather have them consult with a family physician or family dentist about an appropriate pain medication.”

Anderson suggests using cold teething rings or letting your baby gnaw on your fingers as a way for them to deal with the pain.

Pharmacist Jennifer Larkin said she sees parent about once a week inquire about teething gels. She adds it seems the parents reach for the gels as a last resort.

“They’re heard about them before. They’ll try whatever it takes to reduce the pain,” Larkin said.

“Anytime we are asked for a recommendation, that’s not what we would recommend.”

Larkin said using Tylenol, rubbing your baby’s gums and giving them a cool face cloth to chew on may help.

Mother Luba Galvanek relied on alternatives while her son was teething.

Galvanek said her son threw tantrums as he dealt with the pain so she resorted to peeling carrots and giving them to him to nibble on.

“That seems to have helped. Popsicles too,” she said.

“The teething gels weren’t really something we considered just because we found other ways of coping that work really well.”

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