Oral painkillers with benzocaine pose a risk to kids as well as adults

If your baby or grandbaby is crying out from the pain of teething, it’s only natural to want to do something to relieve their discomfort.

But the last thing you should do is reach for one of those OTC gum-numbing products.

You’d never know it by the packages showing the adorable sleeping babies… and the fact that they’re so easily available… but an ingredient they contain, benzocaine, can trigger a life-threatening blood disorder.

The FDA even admits that the combination of benzocaine and babies is “not a good mix” — as well as to knowing about 19 cases of this condition in kids, most of them under the age of two!

During the last 14 years, the agency has issued various warnings and safety announcements about benzocaine sprays, liquids and gels — but, as of now, multiple products packaged specifically for teething babies are still available with no mention of their deadly potential.

So, before you pick up one of these “instant pain relievers,” here’s what you need to know.

You’re (not) being warned

You would think where children are concerned, the FDA would bend over backward to err on the side of caution.

But as far as benzocaine teething products go, it looks like nobody’s home at the agency.

It’s been known by the FDA for some time now that benzocaine can cause a potentially deadly blood disorder called “methemoglobinemia” that can literally cut off your blood’s supply of oxygen.

Instead of hemoglobin traveling through your veins delivering oxygen to body tissues, this condition causes it to be replaced by methemoglobin, which can’t release oxygen. The results can show up as blue-colored skin, shortness of breath, a rapid pulse, and — in the most serious cases — brain damage and death.

And those symptoms can appear in minutes to hours after these types of gels have been applied to the gums.

And while brands that include “Baby Orajel nighttime formula” (which contains 10 percent benzocaine) say not to be used on children under two, most tots start teething at six months!

In fact, the handy information page at the Orajel website says teething can begin as early as three months, and by the time a child is two — the age recommended to start using the product — the company states that it’s likely only two sets of second molars will still be breaking through.

But Orajel is just one of a number of benzocaine products that, while not called a “teething” preparation, are still said to be A-OK for kids two and older. These include Colgate Orabase, several Anbesol brands and one called Hurricaine, which unbelievably says it’s fine to use on babies as young as four months old!

And while all those contain a whopping 20 percent benzocaine, only Anbesol warns on the label that “use of this product may cause methemoglobinemia.”

So obviously, the FDA’s weak-kneed approach to warning consumers so as not to inconvenience drugmakers is still leaving plenty of parents in the dark.

But it’s not just toddlers who are at risk. The agency is also sitting on information about hundreds of adults who have suffered a similar reaction — including seven who’ve died.

That’s why, at the end of last week, the group Public Citizen went ahead and filed a lawsuit against the FDA demanding that it stop allowing benzocaine products to be labeled for use in teething babies and that all the others intended for adults carry a warning label about the blood disorder.

So, if your child or grandchild is teething, instead of reaching for a pain-numbing med with a dangerous ingredient like benzocaine (or lidocaine, which also should not be used for children), try a cold teething ring… a chilled, damp washcloth… or gently massaging the gums with your finger.

And as for adults, using products containing benzocaine, whether they carry a warning or not, is still a very risky way to provide a short bit of relief from mouth pain, whether it’s from a toothache, wisdom teeth coming in or sore gums often caused by dentures.

Plus that, if you suffer from any heart or lung diseases, you’re at a greater risk of coming down with that blood disorder.

So before putting any toothache products in your shopping cart, be sure to carefully check the ingredients for benzocaine. And rather than just trying to numb the pain, a much better idea is to see your dentist and get the problem resolved!