Benzocaine is a local anesthetic that is used to relieve pain. It can be found in most drugstores, usually under the product names Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel and Orabase. Benzocaine has been associated with a rare but serious—and sometimes fatal—condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced.

Because of that association, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that parents and caregivers not use benzocaine products for children younger than 2, except under the advice and supervision of a health care professional.

Symptoms of methemoglobinemia can occur minutes to hours after ingestion and include:

  • pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds 
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • headache
  • light-headedness
  • rapid heart rate

If you suspect your child is suffering from methemoglobinemia, take your child to the emergency room immediately. If left untreated or if treatment is delayed, methemoglobinemia may cause permanent injury to the brain and body tissues, and even death, from the insufficient amount of oxygen in the blood.

If your child is teething, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that you try soothing his or her mouth with a teething ring chilled in the refrigerator. You can also try gently rubbing or massaging the gums with your finger. For more information, visit the FDA consumer page on benzocaine.