As parents, there are few things more difficult than knowing that our children are experiencing pain or discomfort. When they stub their toe, we kiss it better. When they get a little paper cut, we give them a magic band-aid and send them on their way. When they get sick with the flu, we make soup and season it with love. But when our babies start teething, it seems like no amount of magic, kisses or love can lessen their discomfort. And in desperate times, some parents turn to desperate measures.
If you were a mother in Ancient Greece, for example, you might have rubbed hare brains on your baby’s gums. You know, right before you gave them a discus and sent them off to the first Olympic Games. Or, if you were a mother in the 19th century, you might have just given your child a spoonful of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup—a particularly unhealthy concoction consisting of mostly morphine and ammonia. Thank goodness that you’re a mother in the 21st century and you know to give your baby an amber teething necklace to soothe their sore gums… right? Not so fast.
What Are Amber Teething Necklaces?
Amber is hardened or fossilized tree resin that resembles—but is not actually—a gemstone. Manufacturers and sellers of amber teething necklaces claim that amber contains succinic acid, a natural painkiller. The theory behind amber teething necklaces is that when your baby “chews” on the necklace, their naturally warm body temperature heats the Baltic amber and releases the succinic acid, thusly alleviating pain.
They further claim that the necklace stimulates the thyroid and encourages the production of saliva which, in turn, has its own anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
But… those are just the claims.
Do Amber Teething Necklaces Actually Work?
While we’re certain that the internet and social media are awash with anecdotal evidence in support of amber teething necklaces, the science just isn’t there. The American Academy of Pediatrics said it best: “the use of these necklaces is not supported by modern science.”
Some might still argue that the fact that Baltic amber contains succinic acid means that these necklaces work—even if only a little. But again, there simply isn’t any scientific research to back up that claim. While the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved succinic acidic for use as a food additive and dietary supplement, it only has limited use as a pain reliever. Furthermore, heat-treated amber has lower concentrations of succinic acid than raw amber but it isn’t clear that either form has sufficient levels to noticeably relieve pain.
In short, there’s no evidence that amber teething necklaces can provide your baby with relief from their teething pains. In fact, these necklaces may actually present more risks than benefits to your baby’s overall health.
Are Amber Necklaces Safe?
It’s one thing for amber necklaces to be ineffective. It’s another thing for them to be dangerous. We’re willing to bet that Mrs. Winslow’s witch’s brew of morphine and ammonia is among the most dangerous—and worst tasting—remedies for teething pain but that’s not to say that amber necklaces don’t present risks of their own.
In December of 2018, the US FDA issued a news release warning parents, caregivers and healthcare providers about the dangers of amber necklaces and other forms of teething jewelry. The FDA stated that the beads on the jewelry presented a choking hazard to babies and young children and that necklaces posed a risk of strangulation. Other forms of jewelry such as bracelets could, according to the FDA, become stuck on cribs or clothing and cause physical injury. Other risks included the risk of oral injuries from hard or sharp beads, irritation from allergens and the growth of harmful bacteria.
At the end of their news release, the FDA explicitly advised parents to avoid teething jewelry altogether and cited two fatal incidences involving a 7-month-old and an 18-month-old.
What Does Work for Teething Pain?
Unfortunately, when it comes to teething pain, there isn’t much that sympathetic parents can do. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any options.
- Rub Relief: Using a clean finger or damp gauze, you can alleviate some of your baby’s distress by applying gentle pressure on their gums. This is also a great opportunity to clean their gums and make sure that their teeth are growing into a healthy mouth.
- Teething Toys: While you definitely want to avoid teething jewelry, specially designed teething toys such as teething rings are safe and effective. They work by applying slight pressure on your baby’s gums when they bite down. For those really bad days, you can try placing teething toys in the fridge before giving them to your baby to provide added relief.
- Pediatric Dentists: If you’ve tried everything from “rub relief” to teething toys—but hopefully not hare brains—and nothing has worked, call your pediatric dentist. They may prescribe an over-the-counter medication that is safe for babies and infants such as acetaminophen or recommend a different strategy. Either way, a pediatric dentist can get your baby smiling again.
Book your baby’s next appointment with Treehouse Dental and let’s turn those teething tears into a toothy smile!