Homeopathic teething tablets, gels can pose serious risks

Baby sucking on thumb. (KXAN File Photo)
Baby sucking on thumb. (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents putting a few drops of a homeopathic remedy in their child’s mouth to ease the pain of teething are being told to look closely at the ingredients label.

The medical director and division chief at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin has issued a warning to parents who use or have considered using homeopathic teething tablets, gels and liquids.

Dr. Eric Higginbotham says while you can buy these remedies over the counter, they’re not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Earlier this month, the FDA issued a warning to parents, urging they avoid using the products and even recommending parents trash any teething tablets or gels they have at home.

The risk can be traced to the extract of a plant called belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, used in some of the teething remedies. Unregulated by the FDA, the products with belladonna can sometimes have fatal consequences.

“The side effects of this, if it’s given too frequently, or if the concentration is too much in that product, can cause a wide number of side effects,” Higginbotham says. “From dilated pupils to hallucinations, to finally having seizures and causing kids to go into a coma.”

Eric Higginbotham, medical director and division chief of the emergency pediatric unit at Dell Children's Medical Center. (KXAN Photo)
Eric Higginbotham, medical director and division chief of the emergency pediatric unit at Dell Children’s Medical Center. (KXAN Photo)

The remedies, found in almost any supermarket, have resulted in a few local medical emergencies, but none deadly, Higginbotham says.

Instead of these extracts, depending on the age of the child, a weight-based dose of acetaminophen, or Tylenol, is what the doctor recommends. If kids are greater than six months, Higginbotham recommends an appropriate weight-based dose of ibuprofen.

He says in a crunch, parents can take a washcloth, get it wet, stick it in the freezer and then let their child gnaw on it.

The bottom line is to talk to your pediatrician before giving your child an extract. “I’m not against homeopathic remedies, what I want to make sure though is any time they’re given, they’re given with the pediatrician’s understanding what it is and giving guidance to those families,” Higginbotham emphasized.

The doctor  says when used with caution and exactly as directed, topical gels like Orajel can be safe and effective. The products contain an anesthetic called benzocaine, which when given too much can also cause serious side effects. “If you’re going to use those products, do it according to instructions, very, very carefully,” he said.

“Any product — whether it’s a car seat, a toy, a medication or anything they use — always make sure it’s tested for safety.”

Dell Children’s, located at 4900 Mueller Blvd., is Central Texas’ only Pediatric Level I Trauma Center, the highest level of trauma care available. Read the full FDA warning here. 

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