Teething can be hard on babies. It can hurt as teeth break through the gums. While some babies weather it fine, others are downright miserable. It’s hard to watch a baby be miserable, understandably, some parents and caregivers reach for teething powder, teething syrup, and traditional concoctions, including those that contain benzocaine, which can numb the gums and soothe the pain.

Teething is when the baby’s teeth start to come through their gum line. Most babies begin to teethe between 4 and 7 months old, but some start much later.  It can be painful, but it doesn’t usually make babies sick.

The symptoms aren’t the same for every baby, but they may include swollen gums; fussiness and crying; wanting to chew on hard things; lots of drool, changes in eating or sleeping patterns; and bringing their hands to their mouth.

The study, which involved Dr Olubunmi Bankole and Dr Folake Lawal, both dentists at the University of Ibadan, in the journal, International Quarterly of Community Health Education, stated that teething powder, teething syrup, and traditional concoctions were commonly recommended by 42.0%, 31.6%, and 48.1% of the respondents, respectively, to treat and prevent teething symptoms.

The majority 71.5% of the respondents mentioned that using traditionally compounded teething soap to bathe infants was effective to forestall teething symptoms. Traditional spiritual preventive methods included wearing of traditional wrist bands, amulets, bangles, native beads around the child’s waist (kebekebe), and incisions made by herbalists and witch doctors on the child’s skin.

However, of particular concern is self-medication with antibiotics for teething problems in children. This is popularly given to infants for treating teething diarrhoea.

Dr Kemi Tongo, a consultant paediatrician at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, however, says that babies don’t need teething powder, teething syrup, and traditional concoctions to cope with teething, being a natural phenomenon.

According to her, “there is no need for teething mixture; for instance, the benzocaine in some teething syrups numb the gums and soothe the pain like a local anaesthetic.”

But along with numbing pain, benzocaine can change haemoglobin into methemoglobin and cause a dangerous condition called methemoglobinemia.

Haemoglobin is the compound inside the red cells of the blood that gathers oxygen from the lungs and distributes it to the tissue. When the iron in haemoglobin is exposed to certain chemicals including benzocaine, it changes to a form that holds on to the oxygen instead of letting it go — which means that tissues in the body don’t get the oxygen they need.

Because babies and toddlers are smaller, with less blood volume, they are at higher risk for this side effect.

The paediatrician added that other teething mixtures, a combination of paracetamol, antihistamine and antimalarial also advertised that babies should take daily to treat and prevent teething symptoms is to be avoided.

According to her, “teething is a natural process like you grow your hair; the teeth will grow on its own. But because of the itchy or tingling sensation that these babies have on their gums, that is why they also begin to pick things and put such in their mouths. So, it is not unusual.

At that same time, immunity from their mothers is lost. It is also about this time that complementary food is introduced that the child starts to stool, becomes susceptible to malaria and develops cough and congestion. So people tend to associate those things with teething. It is not the teething. Drug manufacturing only takes advantage of this by preparing these teething syrups.”

Dr Tongo said by given children teething powder or syrup daily to treat and prevent teething symptoms might do them a lot of harm because the constituents of these products are in suboptimal doses.

According to her, rather than give children teething powder or syrup, as they are approaching the age of teething and starting to pick up things and put it in their mouth, mothers should take care of their hygiene.

“There teethers and toys are to be washed.  When they fall anywhere, you just don’t pick them up and put such in the child’s mouth so that they will not catch an infection and start to stool. Breastfeeding exclusively, and continued breastfeeding even after 6 months is also important. In case there is high body temperature, the child should be taken to the hospital for treatment.”

It’s hard to have a miserable baby, that’s true. But giving children teething powder or syrup is not worth the risk. More recent prospective studies reveal that most of what is termed teething signs and symptoms are due to other causes.

@ Nigerian Tribune

About Dotun Olanibi

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