‘Potential to Kill:’ Mother Says Baby Had Brush with Death After Using Teething Gel

May 1, 2019 Updated: May 1, 2019

A New Zealand mother is warning parents to be aware of the risks of teething gels after she says applying “too much Bonjela” nearly killed her 7-month-old.

Jessica Vermunt posted on a Facebook parenting group that her daughter was rushed to hospital after giving the toddler the popular brand of teething gel.

“I am currently in Starship Hospital with my 7-month-old baby who was literally minutes from dying after having too much Bonjela,” Vermunt wrote in the group on the social media platform, the Daily Mail reported.

“The active ingredient in Bonjela will turn your baby’s blood ACIDIC and cause complete renal failure,” the mother wrote.

She said her daughter Athena was experiencing considerable pain due to teething, so she applied a “more than normal” amount of gel, not realizing it could be harmful.

“I’m aware that she had more than normal but the point remains that this has the potential to kill your child and there is no real information or warnings about the severity of it,” she told nzherald.co.nz.

The mother told the publication the pair were at the doctor’s for four hours before Athena stopped breathing and became unresponsive. The baby was sedated and put onto a breathing machine while the doctors performed blood infusions and transfusions.

Vermunt told the publication her baby was “minutes away from death” from too much teething gel, but has now made a full recovery.

“They diagnosed her with salicylate overdose. Salicylate is the active ingredient in Bonjela,” Vermunt told the publication.

It is unknown whether the child is at risk of long-term complications due to the teething gel overdose.

Bonjela Responds

A spokeswoman for Bonjela was cited by stuff.co.nz as saying the company was aware of the incident and was trying to contact Vermunt to find out the details of the distressing incident.

Bonjela manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser issued a statement, as cited by Newshub:

“We have been made aware of an incident relating to Bonjela and are currently trying to contact the consumer directly to understand what exactly has happened. Meanwhile, we are sending our best wishes to the infant for a quick recovery. The health and safety of our consumers is a top priority for us.

“We take the health and safety of our customers very seriously. All Bonjela products in Australia and New Zealand are thoroughly reviewed and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the regulatory body for therapeutic goods in Australia and the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority (Medsafe) for safety and efficacy.

“As with all medicines, parents should use oral teething and mouth ulcer gels only according to the directions on the packaging and should speak to a healthcare professional if they have any concerns.”

Gel Use Warning for the Under-16s

Most mouth gels like Bonjela contain salicylate salts—a chemical similar to aspirin—which relieves mouth ulcers and mouth pain.

The gels gained attention in 2009 when the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) advised that children under 16 should not be given mouth pain relief gels containing the salts.

The MHRA said there was a theoretical risk that products with the salts could lead to children developing Reye’s Syndrome, a rare condition that causes serious liver and brain damage.

There have been no confirmed cases of Bonjela or Bonjela Cool Mint Gel causing Reye’s, the agency said.

However, the regulator has received reports of three children hospitalized with suspected serious adverse drug reactions after using oral gels such as Bonjela.

In all cases, Reye’s Syndrome was suspected but not confirmed.

There have also been four reports of vomiting or diarrhea in children following the use of Bonjela. In three of the cases the gel had been given for teething pain, and in all cases, the children recovered completely.

Reckitt Benckiser told Reuters at the time that Bonjela and Bonjela Cool would be clearly labeled as adult brands.

The manufacturer also told Reuters the warning did not apply to its Bonjela Teething Gel, which does not contain salicylate salts and remains safe for children from just 2 months old.

New Zealand’s equivalent of the MHRA, Medsafe, told Newshub it decided Bonjela was still safe for use on children in 2009 and has not looked at it again since.

“There have been no cases about this product reported to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM) since 2009 and as such, Medsafe’s last advice on bonjela was in 2009,” group manager Chris James said, according to Newshub.

“We cannot take action if there is no evidence of harm but we strongly encourage the family or healthcare professionals treating the child to report to CARM.”

James was cited by stuff.co.nz as saying that, “If the product’s safety information is adhered to, Bonjela is a safe and effective product.”

In 2009, Medsafe considered taking similar steps to those taken in the UK and reviewed mouth gel products for safety.

According to stuff.co.nz, Medsafe concluded the products were safe when used at the recommended dose.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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