Amber Teething Necklaces: Safe Or Dangerous?

The tooth fairy has an evil twin, the teething fairy. And she creates quite the uproar… literally.

Teething is a tear ridden trek that can last up to 7 days per tooth, and it isn’t fun for you or baby – especially when multiple teeth are coming in at a time.

The discomfort comes as no surprise, because when a tooth cuts through an infants’ gums, it hurts, and your baby will let you know it.

But, worry not! There are gizmos designed by the tooth fairy herself {not really… but how cool would that be?} that make teething a more tolerable experience for parents and baby alike by combating the following not-so-pretty symptoms.

  • Drool – lots of it, bibs at the ready!
  • Grouchiness – your little one will be worse than the Grinch on Christmas day.
  • Fever – 1/3 of babies will experience fevers during teething
  • Biting/sticking their hands in their mouth – massaging feels good on the gums
  • Diarrhea & Diaper rash – keep diaper rash cream with you at all times, it’s a must-have item in your diaper bag at all times
  • Tossing and turning – it isn’t easy for baby to sleep through that pain

And let’s not forget the most obvious symptom of all… PAIN. This is why the goal of all teething remedies is to decrease inflammation in the gums, which is what triggers the nerves in the gums.

The result of that “trigger”? – your baby screaming at the top of their lungs while they shove anything they can get their hands on in their mouth for soothing purposes. Simultaneously slobbering on you worse than a bulldog while doing it.

From numbing creams to teething rings and Popsicles, there are several angles to combat teething pain – some of them more popular than others.

For mothers that opt for a more natural remedy, including celeb moms like Rachel Zoe and Giselle Bundchen, they decorate their babies in organic bling because Amber Teething Necklaces are the “in thing”.

With that being said, these necklaces remain the topic of some serious controversy, with some moms swearing by them and others going so far as to say they should be banned.

Are these fashionable necklaces just a craze or do they really work the way they’re advertised to work? And most important of all… are they safe?!

What Is An Amber Teething Necklace?

It’s a beaded necklace made of Amber, designed to be worn around a teething baby’s neck.

The benefits of the amber teething necklaces don’t come from baby chewing on the beads but just from baby wearing the necklace.

But How?!

Amber is a gemstone, yellowish-orange in color and is made of resin from fossilized coniferous trees – trees so old they could make the talking ones in lord of the rings look young… seriously though, amber comes from extinct trees that existed up to 90 million years ago.

But, just like gold, not all amber is created equal.

There is amber and then there’s Baltic amber and it’s kind of like comparing the Tesla Model S to the Model 3.

Baltic amber originates from the surrounding regions of the Baltic Sea. It’s a unique type of amber because it’s composed of 8% succinic acid, also called “amber acid”. FYI this isn’t the type of acid that Steve Jobs used to rave about either {not even close}.

Amber acid has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as an analgesic {fancy word for pain reliever}, bestowing Baltic amber with the same.

Non-coincidentally, Baltic amber is the type of amber used in amber teething necklaces – and if you are going to buy one, the variety is quite posh. From “Amber Cognac” to “Amber Milk and Butter” and “Baltic Amber Cinnamon”, etc.

With fancy names like these, and the assortments of colors and styles available, it’s no wonder this organic bling has spread like wildfire.

The reason as to why is not so clear, though … Have they become popular because they are pretty or because they pacify teething babies?

How Amber Teething Necklaces Alledgedly Soothe Teething Pain

Here’s a layout of the philosophy behind the amber teething necklaces:

  • Step 1: Amber is worn as a necklace or bracelet and subsequently touches baby’s skin
  • Step 2: Succinic acid is realeased as the baby’s body temperature warms the amber
  • Step 3: Succinic acid is absorbed into the baby’s skin & reduces teething pain

For this philosophy to cause physiological changes that reduce the pangs of teething, this would suppose “amber acid”:

  • Is released from the amber teething necklace at body temperature
  • Is able to enter the baby’s bloodstream through contact with the skin
  • Enters the bloodstream in enough amounts to cause anti-inflammatory effects

Sorry to be the bearer of disappointing news, but there isn’t any scientific evidence in existence to back any of these claims. Zilch.

Only one published article suggests succinic acid may reduce anxiety {not in humans, but in mice} but the credibility of the research could never compare to those of PubMed and sorts.

The lack of research fails miserably to support the central point of amber teething necklaces; that succinic acid can achieve dermal absorption – passing three layers of skin and entering the bloodstream.

Bringing us to the elephant in the room …

Are Amber Teething Necklaces All Hype?

Maybe, maybe not.

Think of the first time you took your little one to the beach. The sandcastles and admiration of the ocean probably went hand in hand with you slathering a pound of sunscreen on baby – to protect them from harmful UV rays.

There’s substantial evidence that some harmful chemicals in skin products and sunscreens – cough, cough … Oxybenzone being one of them – can enter the bloodstream through the skin.

Could succinic acid enter the baby’s bloodstream in the same way? Until there is enough research to back the claims then it’ll have to remain a mystery. Until then, it seems that amber teething necklaces may be the target of critics because the marketing tends to over-promise and under-deliver!

Some sites that sell the necklaces go so far as to claim they:

  • Cause stimulation in the thyroid gland that reduces the level of drooling
  • Unblocks energy flow

Both of which make zero sense because stimulating the thyroid wouldn’t result in a decreased level of drooling, and the “energy flow” banter seems to only appeal to the audience, parents interested in a natural alternative for their teething baby.

But this mystical jargon and lack of research isn’t the only focus of the critics. The mechanistic safety of amber teething necklaces – or lack thereof – is also a topic of great concern.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Here is what the AAP and FDA say regarding amber teething necklaces. Basically, they don’t recommend them.

The article includes a consulting section with a naturopathic medicine practitioner who refutes the claims some have made about any possible benefit to these necklaces.”

The Dangers And Controversy Of Amber Teething Necklaces

Strangulation

The greatest risk that amber teething necklaces pose to babies is strangulation.

The very topic is fueled by the death of Deacon Morin, an 18 month-old baby boy who was strangled into an unresponsive state {and later died at the hospital after his mother chose to take him off of life support} during his nap at Little Impressions Day Care.

Deacon was wearing an amber teething necklace. The daycare owner and staff put complete blame on the necklace. But not everyone bought their claim.

After police investigation, two staff members were charged with involuntary manslaughter because they failed to immediately call 911 after finding the boy unresponsive in his crib.

The day Deacon died, the daycare also had more children under staff supervision than legally permitted, suggesting that negligence played a huge factor.

The baby boy’s mom released a statement in which she did not blame the amber teething necklace, but the staff. Danielle Morin said the staff were trying to conceal their lack of supervision behind the amber teething necklace and that her doubts had been confirmed by the results of the medical examination.

The bottom line is that the staff should’ve taken the necklace off before putting Deacon down for a nap. Not practicing common sense cost this baby boy his life.

Take it Off for the Z’s

All sellers of amber teething necklaces have similar safety warnings… The necklace should only be worn during adult supervision. No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts”. It’s the golden rule and it isn’t meant to be broken.

Some moms don’t take the warning seriously and let their babiess sleep with the necklaces on or they get creative and wrap the teething necklace around their baby’s feet, ankles or legs during naps or bedtime. This isn’t a good idea. In fact, it’s a terrible and deadly idea.

Ashleigh Ferguson found this out the hard day when her baby girl managed to wrap her arm through the necklace multiple times during her nap, constricting it around her neck so tightly that her mom was able to capture photos of the imprint.

She published the photos on her Facebook profile because all her “mom friends” put their babies to sleep with the necklace on and she wanted to bring more awareness to the dangers of doing so.

Choking Hazard

The necklace has a built-in safety release causing it to snap when enough pressure is applied. But that doesn’t mean that it will before causing damage.

In the event the necklace was to snap, it could pose a separate risk entirely – choking.

The necklace snapping would mean that baby could get a hold of the individual amber beads and put them in their mouth {as they do everything when they’re teething}.

Makers of the necklace prevent this from happening as much as possible in their design, as there is a knot between each of the beads.

Anything can happen and when you’re a parent you’re constantly protecting your little one from the worst-case scenario.

If your baby is sporting the pretty amber teething bling, then make sure they’re only doing it under the watchful eyes of an adult that can step in and save the day if anything unexpected happens.

Natural Moms Stand By The Soothing Properties Of Amber Teething Necklaces

Loudly and proudly at that, too.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence and the risks, moms around the world continue to swear by amber teething necklaces for their fussy teething babies.

There’s a bunch of positive feedback about amber teething necklaces in online communities like Baby Center that include phrases like:

  • “She drools way more and is fussier when she doesn’t have it on. I completely recommend them to everyone.”
  • “I was super skeptical. But she just cut two teeth and she wasn’t fussy at all, no sleepless nights or excessive crying. Either it’s crazy coincidence or it works!”
  • “Better sleep, less screaming and a much happier mom.”

There are two reasons why amber teething necklaces continue to dominate the teething industry nowadays.

1) Our Culture: Because teething is a milestone associated with things like the tooth fairy and countless old wives’ tales, many parents give less of a hoot about “scientific evidence” compared to the changes they observe in their little one.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I think parents look for ‘remedies’ such as this one because there is a trend toward “natural” or non-medicinal treatments.

2) The Competition: The more popular competition on the market is arguably even riskier.

  • Teething Gel – They numb the gums {temporarily ridding baby of pain} but if baby swallows enough anesthetic benzocaine, their throats can also go numb, constricting baby’s breathing and posing fatal consequences.
  • Handheld Teethers – Another widely popular teething reliever that baby chews while holding. However, we can all agree that babies don’t have the best coordination and that the teether is bound to fall on the floor ever minute or so… Not the most sanitary or convenient choice {unless you want to run to the sink and wash the teether as often as your baby drops it}.

It’s no wonder that parents flock to more homeopathic solutions like amber teething necklaces. Under thorough adult supervision, there’s a very slight chance of your baby suffocating, and they’re more convenient and sanitary than handheld teethers.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The American Dental Association has a good article on teething and safe remedies that is a great resource for anyone reading this to check out: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/teething

Also, talking about benzocaine, the primary concern is due to it causing
methemoglobinemia (which is fatal). There was also a report a few years ago about seizures under the age of 2 years old.

Here are some links regarding this:
https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/safely-soothing-teething-pain-and-sensory-needs-babies-and-older-children
https://www.poison.org/articles/2011-dec/teething-gels-a-warning

Stay Positive During The Teething Phase

It’s not anyone’s favorite childhood phase – it’s one of the most dreaded phases, actually – but we all go through it.

Take teething one day at a time, and above all, remember that it doesn’t last forever.

Your little one will get through this unscathed, and so will you.

Don’t forget to breathe, even if you’re dealing with a teether that is an absolute nightmare. “ooooooo-sahhhhhhh”.

You’re doing just great!

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Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. After graduating from Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, she completed her pediatric residency at Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals. She is board certified in General Pediatrics.

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