Toxic Chemicals Found in 2 in 10 Baby Teethers

Got a teething baby? You might assume teethers from the baby store are all OK. But new research finds otherwise. Here's how to find a safe teether for your baby.

Toxic Chemicals Found in 2 in 10 Baby Teethers pavla/Shutterstock

Teethers are the kinds of toys we always assumed were safe for babies, given that their primary purpose is to be chewed and gnawed on by little ones. But not all teething devices are free and clear of harmful substances it seems.

A teething problem

As many as 2 out of 10 baby teething implements contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), like methyl-, ethyl-, and propylparaben, according to new research published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. These compounds, commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics, have been found to confuse the body's natural hormone functioning and could harm your little one.

Related: The Truth About Teething: What to Expect

The scientists behind the research were shocked. "Finding parabens, well-known EDCs, in a plastic teether was rather unexpected," senior report author Martin Wagner, Ph.D. told "In the European Union, parabens have recently been banned in baby cosmetics because of health concerns with regard to their hormonal activity.

"The use of these chemicals in baby teethers is objectionable, especially because they have no beneficial function in the product," he continued. "Moreover, our study demonstrates that plastic teethers are a so far neglected source of infant exposure to EDCs."

What to avoid

As adults, we're generally concerned by coming into contact with potentially harmful materials; when it comes to babies and infants, that concern is only magnified, especially since babies are still developing and therefore more susceptible to exposure. With no benefit and suspected potential for harm—including reproductive disorders, breast cancer, obesity, and cardiac diseases in the case of Bisphenol A (BPA)—it stands to reason that parents would want to avoid many plastic teethers on the market.

Related: No Room in the Womb for BPA

So what is safe? While Wagner hesitates to make general recommendations given that the study only looked at a small fraction of what's on the market, he encourages parents to be critical consumers and demand safer products that are free of chemicals that can seep out and harm children. This includes not only plastic products, but some natural rubber ones that are labeled "eco-friendly" as well. (The rubber teether that Wagner's team analyzed had to be taken off shelves because it contained a known carcinogen, N-nitrosamines, and N-nitrosatable substances.)

Wagner suggests considering alternatives to store-bought plastic teethers. "My parents made me chew on a cold carrot from the fridge when I was cutting a tooth," he says, adding that untreated wood might also be a safe option.

Until stricter legislation and greater corporate responsibility lead to confirmed product safety, parents should remain vigilant. And maybe opt for a cold, wet washcloth or frozen waffle to soothe sore gums.