How important are teething tablets?

Many parents choose to soothe teething pain with frozen teething toys instead of pain relievers.
Many parents choose to soothe teething pain with frozen teething toys instead of pain relievers.
© Hunkele

Our first tooth typically appears before we turn 1 year old -- usually around 6 months -- and those pearly whites continue to erupt through the toddler years until we have a full set of 20 baby teeth around the age of 3. The first teeth to emerge are usually the central incisors, which are the four front teeth on the top and bottom jaw.

While you may find your baby is relatively symptom free during the teething process, most babies give at least a few indications that they're uncomfortable. Babies who are teething can become fussy and irritable, and may not want to eat, drink or sleep. You might find them chewing on everything from fingers to toys to furniture. It can be a painful process, with sore, swollen gums and a lot of drool. Luckily, teething symptoms aren't a day in, day out complaint during the teething years. Most babies and toddlers are bothered during the few days prior to a tooth erupting, and thankfully there are remedies available to help soothe the pain and inflammation that comes along with teething.

Not all parents choose to give their child pain relievers during the teething cycle, but for those that do, three common remedies are over-the-counter teething (OTC) topical pain relievers, OTC oral pain relievers and teething tablets.

Topical pain relievers such as teething sprays and gels are local anesthetics that work quickly -- these treatments are rubbed directly on the baby's gums. Topicals are controversial, however, because these remedies often contain benzocaine as their active ingredient. The Food and Drug Administration has warned that benzocaine is associated with methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder that causes an abnormal accumulation of hemoglobin. Methemoglobinemia is a rare but serious side effect, so some parents choose to avoid topical remedies and instead reach for other types of pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin).

These OTC pain relievers are trusted by many parents and pediatricians, but they don't come without risk of side effects, either. Acetaminophen reduces teething pain, but might cause nausea and vomiting in some people, and it may increase the risk of liver disease. Acetaminophen is also commonly bundled with other ingredients used to treat coughs and sore throats -- ingredients that aren't necessary for teething relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil and Motrin reduce inflammation and pain, but have been linked to gastrointestinal bleeding.

Some parents choose to use alternative teething remedies instead of OTC drugs. Let's look at teething tablets along with other alternative ways to give your baby relief.