The Truth About the Safety of Amber Teething Necklaces
August 6, 2020
Teething can be really tough on babies (and parents). 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 Baltic 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 an amber baby teething necklace something you really want in your baby kit? Keep reading to learn what two pediatricians have to say.
In this article:
What is an amber teething necklace?
How do amber teething necklaces work?
Do amber teething necklaces work?
Amber teething necklace safety concerns
Alternative teething methods to an amber teething necklace
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. The necklace can then be placed around baby’s neck (though doing so poses a whole host of safety issues). “Amber teething necklaces are made of amber and are marketed to relieve teething pain. Sellers of the necklaces make claims that when warmed by baby’s body temperature, the amber releases a pain-relieving substance that’s absorbed by the child and helps with teething pain,” says Dina DiMaggio, MD, a New York City-based pediatrician and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
Some people believe the soothing properties come from the presence of succinic acid, a natural substance that’s 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 succinic acid that, when absorbed by baby’s body, helps to soothe sore and swollen gums. Retailers also claim the beads can stimulate the thyroid gland and, consequently, control drool and improve the immune system’s ability to reduce inflammation in the ears, throat, stomach and respiratory system, explains Texas-based pediatrician Alexis Phillips-Walker, DO. To date, however, there has been no scientific evidence or research to back up these claims.
With the recent surge in popularity of Baltic amber teething beads, many people are convinced that their amber baby teething necklace has solved their child’s teething problems. You can find plenty of anecdotal evidence after a simple Google search, but medical experts caution that these necklaces are not safe and effective. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the claims of amber teething necklaces are not supported by any scientific research or evidence.
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, an 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. 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. And even if there was, the necklaces simply aren’t worth the risk they pose to infants. Wondering what those are? Read on.
Many parents recoil from the idea of putting jewelry—especially necklaces—on babies because of choking and strangulation risks. Manufacturers of amber teething necklaces claim that their products are safe because they knotting each bead separately or design the necklace to snap if pulled too hard, thus reducing the risk of strangulation. However, even if they’re individually knotted, if the thread breaks, baby will be able to pick up at least one bead and put it in their mouth—and many say that’s just one too many. 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.
“Amber teething necklaces are dangerous and not recommended by pediatricians,” DiMaggio says. “The FDA released a warning in December 2018 after receiving reports of children choking on beads that break off and even the death of a toddler being strangled by the necklace while sleeping.”
Back 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.
There are so many alternative teething relief options that you can provide for your child without the risk that an amber baby teething necklace carries. From over-the-counter preparations to homespun natural remedies and safety-tested teething toys, there’s something out there to suit your child that comes with no dangerous risks attached.
“Try cold items on gums such as a frozen, damp washcloth or semi-frozen teething rings. Teething rings that are frozen solid are too hard for babies,” Phillips-Walker says. She also recommends parents use chew toys and rubber teething rings, or, if approved by your pediatrician, a dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol). When it comes to numbing gels, though, you want to avoid ones with benzocaine to avoid poisoning younger children, she adds. Another option is to massage baby’s gums with your (clean) fingers.
About the Experts:
Dina DiMaggio, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, is a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates of NYC and a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City. She is also the co-author of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers: Practical Answers to Your Questions on Nutrition, Starting Solids, Allergies, Picky Eating and More. She earned her medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2002.
Alexis Phillips, DO, is a pediatrician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pediatrics Atascocita in Atascocita, Texas. She is a graduate of Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.