When her 15-month-old daughter started teething, Danielle Kapetanovic tried following a friend’s advice and picked up some Orajel Medicated Nighttime Teething Gel to help soothe baby Chloe’s pain. The mother from Chantilly, Virginia, claims she put less than a “pea-size” amount on her child’s gums on the night of February 26. Seconds later, Chloe became unresponsive. “She became limp and stopped breathing,” Kapetanovic wrote on Facebook. “She turned blue. I grabbed her and put her against my body, hitting her back trying to wake her up, but no response.”
Panicked, Kapetanovic started performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Chloe while her husband called 911. “I was screaming. It’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me,” she told People. “I was trying to do everything I could to get her back. It was like she was gone. I picked her up and she was just dangling there. It was absolutely horrifying.”
Thankfully, Chloe regained consciousness about 30 seconds later, and further medical checks determined that she should be fine, but the terrifying incident points to a potential risk of using teething gels that contain the active ingredient benzocaine.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration advises against administering this over-the-counter pain reliever to children under the age of 2 since it can lead to a rare but serious condition called methemoglobinemia. The cases mainly develop in these younger children, who experience pale or blue skin, lips, and nail beds; shortness of breath; fatigue; confusion; headache; lightheadedness; and rapid heart rate. In severe instances, it is fatal.
Orajel states on its packaging that caregivers should consult medical professionals before administering the gel to children under the age of 2. Church & Dwight Co., Inc. the maker of Orajel, provided the following statement to GoodHousekeeping.com, “Orajel™ Teething Gels contain benzocaine and are recommended for children two years or older. Church & Dwight Co., Inc. the maker of Orajel™, advises on its packaging and website that caregivers of children under the age of 24 months consult their physician or healthcare professional before using Orajel™ teething products.”
Although Kapetanovic realizes that the label contains this information, she takes issue with how the product was marketed and sold. “I found it in the baby aisle at my local grocery store, right next to other baby products like baby food and baby wash, so I naturally assumed it was intended for babies,” she told GoodHousekeeping.com. “If this product is intended for children 24 months and older, why does it feature what appears to be a baby on the package?”
She also points out that popular online retailers like Target and Walgreens provide contradictory advice on their websites about the suggested ages, stating it’s recommended for “babies ages 4 months and up.”
“[The websites] feature disclaimers stating that this product information is provided by the manufacturer,” she says. “In my opinion, Church & Dwight’s advertising of this product directly conflicts with the statement they have provided.”
While Chloe’s pediatrician hasn’t made a conclusive determination as to what caused the reaction, Kapetanovic told GoodHousekeeping.com that she was referred to a specialist for a further examination that will hopefully reveal some answers.
Clearly not all parents who’ve used this product have experienced something similar, but Kapetanovic says many have reached out to say they were unaware of these risks when they did. “The product is not properly labeled and is being advertised to a target market that it’s not intended for,” she states. “As a result of this, it’s easy to misuse. I don’t want any other parent, or baby for that matter, to go through what I went through with Chloe.”
Now that nearly 100,000 people have shared her post, Kapetanovic hopes that the power of social media will help raise awareness about benzocaine and its potential effects. “My goal in sharing Chloe’s story is to draw attention to the defective advertising,” she says, “as well as make parents aware of the risk they’re taking by using this product so they can do their own research to determine if they feel it’s worth the risk or not.”