Do Amber Teething Necklaces Work and Are They Worth the Risk?
Teething can be really tough on parents and babies. Like all tricky stages of development, it doesn’t last forever, but that’s little comfort at 2 a.m. as you scramble around in the dark trying to find a dropped teething toy for the eighth time that night. You may understandably be willing to try almost any solution for those sore gums that have kept baby awake and distressed for the third night in a row.
It’s highly likely that at some point, a well-meaning friend or search engine will recommend buying an amber teething necklace for baby while those little teeth work their way through. At first glance, a raw amber teething necklace might have some appeal as a natural alternative to conventional teething medicine. But with unconvincing science, dubious claims to success and significant safety risks, is a raw amber teething necklace something you really want in your baby kit?
First of all, amber isn’t really a true gemstone—it’s actually fossilized tree resin. Most amber teething necklaces are made from either raw or heat-treated and polished Baltic amber beads, which are strung together and individually knotted. Some people believe that these amber necklaces have soothing properties when worn by baby due to the presence of succinic acid, a natural substance that is said to act as a painkiller when absorbed by the body. The highest concentration of succinic acid is in the outer layers of the resin, which is why some people prefer the raw amber teething necklace to heat-treated, which strips away the outer layer of resin during the polishing process.
The belief that amber beads can relieve teething pain is largely based on the fact that Baltic amber contains the analgesic substance succinic acid. Fans of the amber teething necklace claim that baby’s body warmth encourages trace amounts of the succinic acid to be released onto the skin, which is then absorbed by the body where it works to relieve teething pain.
With the recent surge in popularity of amber teething beads, many people are convinced that their raw amber teething necklace has solved baby’s teething problems. Although you can find any anecdotal evidence after a simple Google search, in truth, the amber teething necklace “science” reads more like hype than fact.
A common misconception around Baltic amber teething necklaces is that the amber beads themselves are designed for baby to bite on, which isn’t the case. In fact, the amber teething necklace is only meant to be worn by baby so that the succinic acid can be absorbed by baby’s skin. While this key element is indeed present in amber, there is little evidence that it would be released when warmed to baby’s body temperature. And even if the succinic acid is drawn out by baby’s warmth, there is simply not enough of it within the amber teething necklace to successfully pass through the skin and into the body in a large enough concentration to do any healing work.
If the lack of scientific evidence doesn’t put you off, consider this: Possibly the most compelling reasons for putting your wallet back into your purse at this point are all to do with safety concerns.
Many parents recoil from the idea of putting jewelry—especially necklaces—on babies because of choking and strangulation risks. Manufacturers of amber teething necklaces try very hard to persuade potential customers that their products are safe by knotting each bead separately or designing the necklace to snap if pulled too hard, thus reducing the risk of strangulation. Other companies have tried to quell parents’ fear of baby choking by selling amber teething beads to be worn around the wrist or ankle. But, this arguably makes it even easier for babies to grab and pull at the anklet or bracelet and break the thread.
Whatever your view on whether amber teething necklaces actually work, most people agree that babies and jewelry can be a dangerous mix.
In 2010, the Canadian federal public health department released cautionary guidance about amber teething necklaces, and Ireland took an even more assertive line in 2015, with the Health Service Executive referring to amber teething necklaces as being “inherently unsafe.” In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued their own warning, stating that they advise against infants wearing jewelry of any kind.
But many parents make an exception for an amber necklace for teething. Is that okay? Is it safer to buy jewelry specifically designed for babies? Retailers of amber beads unsurprisingly claim that their products are completely safe if used properly. Despite these claims, you should be aware of the safety concerns of an amber teething necklace.
- Choking No. 1. If the amber necklace for teething breaks and the beads are individually knotted, then baby still can pick up at least one bead and put it into his/her mouth. Some companies say that all of the beads on each amber teething necklace are too small to cause a choking hazard, but who would want to test that theory out?
- Choking No. 2. If the necklace is one that is designed to break if the string is pulled tightly, then at least one bead—and possibly more—will be scattered within baby’s reach.
- Strangulation. There are reported cases of babies managing to wrestle an arm or wrist between their neck and their amber teething necklace, twisting the jewelry around in a figure eight, and then being unable to free their hand, risking strangulation.
- Shattering. Amber is a relatively soft and brittle substance, meaning that both polished and raw amber teething necklaces aren’t terribly strong. Cracking and splintering of the amber beads isn’t unheard of.
There are so many alternative teething relief options that you can provide for baby without the risk that an amber teething necklace carries. From over-the-counter preparations to homespun natural remedies, there’s something out there to suit your child that comes with no dangerous risks attached.
- Sophie la Girafe. Made from natural rubber and food-grade paint, this iconic toy has been soothing sore gums around the world since 1961. Although don’t be surprised if Sophie gets ditched for something else just as squishy and satisfying from the toy box. While Sophie is a much loved teething toy, there are literally hundreds of variations on the “safe stuff for baby to chew on” theme that you can find nearly everywhere.
- Frozen food in mesh fabric/silicone baby feeders. Not just for older babies already weaned, you can add frozen breast milk or formula cubes into one of these chewable feeders for soothing, cold relief from discomfort.
- Chamomile. Chamomile is supremely soothing for teething babies. Try soaking a clean cloth in weak chamomile tea, freezing it and then letting baby chew on the corner.
- Fingertip pressure. Some babies like nothing more than having pressure applied by something nice and familiar, which is why they love biting down on your fingers and their own.
- Medicine. In some severe cases, your pediatrician may recommend suitable medication.