Bonjela scare leads mum to call for warnings over mouth gels after baby almost died

A mother says her baby was “minutes from dying” after she gave her too much mouth gel.

Jessica Vermunt was flown to Auckland’s Starship Hospital on Saturday after she had given her daughter too much Bonjela, a gel used to soothe teething infants.

At the hospital, she was sedated and put onto a breathing machine while the doctors did blood infusions and transfusions, Vermunt said.

On Tuesday, Vermunt posted on a Facebook parenting page “begging” other parents to use the smallest amount, and as little as possible.

I’m aware that she [the baby] 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,” the post said.

The active ingredient in Bonjela will turn your baby’s blood acidic and cause complete renal failure.”

A spokeswoman for Bonjela said it was aware of the incident and was trying to contact the mother to understand what exactly had happened.

All Bonjela products in Australia and New Zealand were thoroughly reviewed and approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration, the regulatory body for safety and efficacy, she said.

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,” the spokeswoman said.

Mouth gels like Bonjela Mouth Ulcer Gel and Ora-sed gel contain choline salicylate, which relieves mouth ulcers and mouth pain.

Gels with choline salicylate gained attention in 2009 when the United Kingdom’s Commission on Human Medicines advised that people under the age of 16 should not use these types of products.

Medsafe’s group manager, Chris James, said since 2009, it had not received any reports to the Centre for Adverse Reaction Monitoring (CARM).

“If there was a report, Medsafe would consider what options it could take,” James said.

“If the product’s safety information is adhered to, Bonjela is a safe and effective product.”

In 2009, Medsafe, the regulator of medicines in New Zealand, looked at these products and considered taking similar steps to the ones made in the United Kingdom.

At the time, former Medsafe group manager, Dr Stewart Jessamine, said the products were safe when people used it at the recommended dose.

“These products have been used in New Zealand for over 30 years” Jessamine said.

The approved dose of the gel in New Zealand was “to apply a small quantity of gel” such as the tip of the index finger to the affected area “no more than every three hours when required for the relief of pain and discomfort associated with infant teething”, he said.

The 2009 decision in the United Kingdom to stop people under the age of 16 from using these gels was based on a British Medical Journal report published in June 2008, which described a suspected case of Reye’s syndrome in a child who had used Bonjela oral gel, he said.

Reye’s syndrome is a rare condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain. It mostly affects children and teenagers recovering from viral infections like the flu.

Aspirin has been linked to the condition.

After a review, however, the case was not considered Reye’s syndrome but more likely due to salicylate toxicity from overusing the gel, Jessamine said.

Medsafe did its own review and found no evidence which linked Reye’s syndrome to the use of mouth gels that had choline salicylate, he said.

“Medsafe’s review has however highlighted that the recommended dose of these products is sometimes exceeded,” Jessamine said.

From 2002 to 2009, the New Zealand Poisons Centre had received 279 calls relating to the use of these type of mouth gels in children.

From August 2016 to April 2019, the centre had received inquiries for 198 patients, aged from under one to six years old, concerning exposure to teething gel products.

Of those 198, 45 patients were referred for medical follow-up for various reasons. Other patients either required no treatment or care at home.