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MEDWATCH: Teething gels, like Hyland's Homeopathic, should be used sparingly

Product: Hyland's Homeopathic Teething Gel, $3.99 for 0.5 ounces, at CVS and Walgreens. Key ingredients: calcarea phosphorica 12X, chamomilla 6X, coffea cruda 6X, belladonna 6X, purified water, hydroxyethylcellulose, vegetable glycerin, sodium be...

Product: Hyland's Homeopathic Teething Gel, $3.99 for 0.5 ounces, at CVS and Walgreens.

Key ingredients: calcarea phosphorica 12X, chamomilla 6X, coffea cruda 6X, belladonna 6X, purified water, hydroxyethylcellulose, vegetable glycerin, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate and sorbic acid.

How it works: Some believe the homeopathic preparations of these ingredients produce these results: Calcarea phosphorica, a mineral, relieves irritability and sleeplessness; the botanical chamomilla (chamomile), a relative to the sunflower, acts as a pain reliever and mild sedative; coffea cruda, an extract of unroasted coffee beans, relieves symptoms of wakefulness; and the plant extract belladonna relaxes the smooth muscles of internal organs, dries up secretions and has a sedative effect.

The pitch: Calms pain and irritability due to teething using natural ingredients.

Pros: Two articles in 1994 editions of the peer-reviewed journal Professional Care of Mother and Child report that teething often responds to chamomilla, which was found a safe homeopathic remedy for the family medicine chest. Unlike the stimulating effects of large amounts of caffeine, miniscule amounts of coffee (coffea cruda) have been found to produce slower brain activity consistent with sleep in rats, according to a study published in the July 2000 British Homeopathic Journal. This product contains no benzocaine, a common ingredient used to numb gums in conventional teething gels that is frowned upon by the Mayo Clinic because it can numb the baby's throat and interfere with the normal gag reflex. It also contains no sugar, unlike teething biscuits. As of April, this gel no longer contains paraben preservatives. (Concerns about the possible carcinogencity of parabens were raised in a scientific study that found paraben samples in breast tumors, but further research is needed to determine if there is scientific correlation with cancer.)

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Cons: Although the amounts of belladonna are extremely small in this product, it is a toxic plant and an overdose could be dangerous. There is little scientific research available regarding the safety of these ingredients in children.

Bottom line: Some doctors recommend teething gels, while other dismiss the temporary relief they may provide. A gel should be used sparingly, but there are many other "natural" teething remedies, such as rubbing a baby's gums with a damp washcloth, cool teething rings (don't freeze because contact with extreme cold may do more harm than good), plush toys and wooden cooking spoons. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (not aspirin) can be given to a baby having trouble sleeping. But before using any products, it's important to confirm with a doctor that the child is, in fact, teething and not cranky for some other reason.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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