Safe Teething Remedies

Collage made up of three antique advertisements for teething remedies and three images of teething babies, one chewing on plastic rings, one chewing on his hand, and one wearing an amber necklace.

There’s nothing worse than your child being in pain, even when you know it’s temporary. It’s no surprise that parents through the ages have reached for any remedies that might relieve their child’s teething.

As the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) describes, “teething occasionally may cause mild irritability, crying, a low-grade temperature, excessive drooling, and a desire to chew on something hard.” The symptoms often seem much worse than they are, “because teething happens during a time of much change in a baby’s life, it is often wrongly blamed for congestion, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and sleep disturbances,” as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains.

People have tried remedies from slicing the gums to rubbing rabbit brains on the gums, and obviously, have failed. Modern parents still reach for remedies that range from unhelpful to harmful.

Safe Solutions for Teething Symptoms

The FDA recommends just two remedies for swollen gums:

  1. Gently rub or massage the child’s gums with your finger.
  2. Give your child a teething ring made of firm rubber to chew on. Ensure the teething ring is not frozen solid, and supervise to make sure the child doesn’t accidentally choke on the teething ring.

Check with your child’s doctor if these teething remedies aren’t helping. They may recommend the painkillers acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil). These are safe when used at the recommended dosages.

Teething Trouble: Avoid these Risky Remedies

Pediatrician Chad Hayes lists some teething remedies that should be avoided.

  1. Topical gels such as Orajel contain benzocaine, which can cause a life-threatening condition that reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood.
  2. Homeopathic teething tablets such as Hyland’s can contain dangerous levels of belladonna, a toxic plant. In 2017, FDA documents showed over 370 cases of babies that were severely sickened or killed by these tablets.
  3. Camelia teething drops are another homeopathic remedy to avoid. Homeopathy is not regulated and does not work. Products like camelia drops are labeled as natural, but homeopathic products at best don’t have enough active ingredient to work and at worst may contain dangerous levels of unregulated ingredients.
  4. Amber necklaces present a real danger of strangulation or choking, even with safety clasps and knots between beads. They also do not work. If you must, the AAP has suggestions on how to use them as safely as possible.
  5. Hard liquor. For infants, even small amounts of brandy, whiskey, rum, or other hard liquor can be toxic.

For further reading, Dr. Hayes has written a fascinating history of teething.

Featured image sources: Boston Public Library, Sharyn MorrowJustin McGregor via Flickr

Note: We originally published this article on updated on June 5, 2018, and updated it in 2020 and 2021 to include additional information about homeopathic remedies.