Teething

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

When should I call the pediatrician about teething pain?

Because teething is so common and other symptoms such as fever, fussiness, and diarrhea are also common, both conditions may often occur at the same time. Other illnesses or disorders (such as viral infections) are much more likely to be causing fever, fussiness, and/or nasal congestion with cough and diarrhea. It is important to contact a doctor if these or other symptoms seem concerning. Do not assume that they are just from teething.

What medications are used to treat teething pain?

Some controversy surrounds the use of pain medicines.

Medicines that can be placed on the gums

While some parents endorse topical medicines, studies haven't consistently shown their benefit. The FDA issued a warning in May 2011 urging avoidance of oral medications containing the topical anesthetic benzocaine (such as Orajel). Benzocaine is the main ingredient of many over-the-counter teething sprays, lozenges, and gels. The FDA warning points out an association with methemoglobinemia, a rare but extremely serious complication. This side effect substantially limits the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. This development may produce serious to lethal consequences. Individuals who develop methemoglobinemia will become pale, lightheaded, confused, and short of breath. A rapid heart rate is also common. Such an adverse reaction may develop upon first exposure or after several exposures to benzocaine. Any individual who has such symptoms after exposure to benzocaine should seek immediate medical attention at the closest emergency room. A medication can be used to reverse these side effects.

Alcohol should never be used to numb the gums.

Medicines that are taken by mouth to help reduce the pain

Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help with pain. Ibuprofen shouldn't be given to infants younger than 6 months of age. Medications should be used only for the few times when other home-care methods do not help. Caution should be taken not to overmedicate for teething. The medicine may mask significant symptoms that could be important to know about. Do not give a child products containing aspirin. No prescription drugs are routinely given for teething.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/13/2016

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