The Food and Drug Administration’s recent caution against homeopathic teething tablets and gels has naturally led many parents to wonder which teething remedies are safe. The belladonna extract in the now-discontinued Hyland’s teething tablets was not the first ingredient to be denounced by the FDA; benzocaine has been the target of consumer warnings because in rare cases it can fatally reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood. However, there are still a number of physical remedies which are endorsed by doctors for soothing babies.
Atropa belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, has long been used as a pain-reliever, but in large doses it also has toxic effects, including hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, and convulsions. Hyland’s manufacturer, the Standard Homeopathic Company, recalled their teething products in 2010 because the FDA found the amount of belladonna extract varied and was often higher than claimed on the label. The company denies this was still the case when they discontinued their products following a second FDA review in 2016, maintains that the amount of extract did not actually exceed what was deemed safe, and continues to sell the remaining stock through their website. But the FDA issued a statement on January 27, 2017, saying their laboratories confirmed levels of belladonna above what was claimed on the products’ labels. Furthermore, the FDA questioned whether any amount of belladonna is safe for children under two, and physicians have expressed skepticism of teething gels in general, as they may constitute a choking hazard. Clove is another homeopathic ingredient often used in teething remedies despite being of questionable safety.
The most common advice for parents with teething babies is to soothe them with chilled objects. Teething rings should be cooled in a refrigerator, not frozen, although frozen washcloths may be safely given to babies provided that they are not cooled to an extreme level. Some doctors also recommend a chilled metal or wooden spoon. Food may be a choking hazard, and parents should monitor babies whenever they are eating, but some mesh products allow babies to suck frozen liquids safely. Parents may also try rubbing their baby’s gums with their fingers.
Teething usually begins when a baby is about six months old. Parents should start bringing their child to a dentist as soon as any tooth surfaces emerge to ensure they know how to clean their baby’s teeth properly. A dentist can also provide information about teething safety.
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