Teething baby chewing on handEven the happiest babies can become irritable and fussy when their first teeth come in. This generally happens between 4 and 7 months, and the signs of discomfort can come and go as additional teeth emerge.

It’s natural to want to ease your child’s pain, but some of the remedies available can put your child’s health at risk.

Avoid these remedies

As you may have seen in the news, the FDA recently issued a warning against the use of homeopathic teething tablets and gels. In an investigation that is still ongoing, the FDA has associated the deaths of at least 10 babies and the serious illness of many others with the use of these remedies. CVS has removed all homeopathic teething remedies from its shelves, and parents are advised to throw away any homeopathic teething remedies they may have in their homes.

Over-the-counter gels and liquid benzocaine products, such as Anbesol® or Orajel®, are also unsafe for teething babies. The FDA issued a warning in 2011 against the use of these products with children under 2 years old due to the risk of methemoglobinemia — a sometimes-fatal condition that results in a severe drop in the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream.

Amber teething necklaces should also be avoided. These are sometimes sold with claims that the amber releases a pain-relieving chemical that is absorbed through the baby’s skin. However, there is no scientific evidence that they actually soothe pain, and they pose a potential risk for both strangulation and choking. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents not to allow babies to wear any jewelry because of these risks.

Try these safe alternatives to ease teething pain

Despite these concerns, there are many safe and effective ways to ease your baby’s pain.

Teething babies naturally seek to put pressure on the gum over the emerging tooth. That’s why a teething baby is eager to chew on fingers, cloth and toys.

You can help by:

  • Massaging your child’s gums with a clean finger or toothbrush
  • Providing a cold, wet washcloth for your child to chew
  • Giving your child a teething ring or toy made of soft silicone, rubber or wood

Chilling a wet washcloth or teething toy can provide additional relief, but don’t freeze it solid, as that will make it too hard for your baby’s teeth and gums. If the item was in the freezer, be sure to let it thaw partially before giving it to your baby.

Some popular — and safe —  teething toys include:

If your child is old enough to eat solid foods, offering semi-frozen, easily-mashed fruit is another option. For example, freeze a pineapple ring, then remove it from the freezer for a few minutes until it begins to soften. Teething wafers should only be given to babies who are eating solid foods and are old enough to handle the pieces that can break off. These wafers are a choking hazard to younger babies.

In most cases, all your teething child needs is a massage of their gums or something to chew on. But if that’s not enough, and they are clearly in pain, you might ask your doctor for guidance on an age-appropriate dose of pain reliever such as Tylenol®.