Heads up, parents. While homeopathic teething tablets may sound like a safe and natural remedy to ease your baby’s swollen gums, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning potential side effects could be harmful or even deadly to infants and children.
The tablets are readily available in retail stores and online. The FDA says the products are distributed by CVS, Hyland’s, and possibly others. The FDA urges parents to avoid these products, search their home cabinets and toss any they find.
A not-so-innocent plant
Eric Higginbotham, MD, runs the emergency department at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.
According to Higginbotham, a plant-based ingredient called belladonna often found in these homeopathic teething gels and tablets makes them so dangerous. Belladonna, which means “beautiful woman,” has been around since the Middle Ages. Higginbotham says women often took the extract back then to make their eyes dilate, which was thought to be an attractive feature.
One of the compounds in the plant is a drug that works like atropine, a substance eye doctors use to relax the eye muscle, Higginbotham said. “So even back then women would take it and experience hallucinations and other unpredictable effects.”
He says belladonna can cause serious side effects when consumed in large amounts and homeopathic products are not regulated by the FDA — a potentially dangerous combination.
“You don’t know how much your kid is getting,” he said. “Without the quality control of the FDA’s oversight, you could get a high dose of belladonna extract in these tablets that could be lethal in a little kid.”
Serious side effects
The FDA is currently testing product samples and analyzing reports of serious symptoms. The following side effects have been reported after using homeopathic teething products:
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive sleepiness
- Muscle weakness
- Skin flushing
- Difficulty urinating
Safe alternatives for teething
Higginbotham says talk with your child’s pediatrician about teething and safe options for pain relief. A few safe remedies include:
- Chew toys (including those that can be stored in the freezer)
- Cold washcloth
- Tylenol (ask your pediatrician about dosing)
- Motrin (after six months of age, with correct dosing)
What about topical gels?
Higginbotham 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 provides around the clock emergency care and is Central Texas’ only Pediatric Level I Trauma Center, the highest level of trauma care available.