As discussed in my last two posts (click here or here in case you missed it), teething can be a tough time for some infants. As those new little chompers are emerging from the gumline, infants may sometimes be fussy and uncomfortable, and as a parent, your first reaction is to do something to soothe them. Once you have tried teething rings, cold washrags, and your own fingers to no avail, you remember something that you saw on some social media site/mommy blog/Etsy shop…that happy little baby sitting with a necklace made of small brown beads and a caption boasting “No more teething pain.” Is it possible? And just what is this “miracle” cure for teething?
Amber teething necklaces are quickly becoming the accessory to have in the 4 month to 2 year age group. A quick Google search will provide you with numerous outlets to purchase these necklaces (ranging in price from $9 all the way up to $30) as well as countless websites and blogs that praise the benefits of such necklaces. The claims as to how these necklaces work are varying, and to be honest, sometimes laughable- “Amber activates the solar plexus,” “Amber produces large amounts of electromagnetic energy,” and “Amber helps fight toxic free radicals.”
“And after my research, the truth is there are really no scientific based, randomized controlled trials (the best kind of study out there) in regards to amber teething necklaces and succinic acid in infants.”
The most commonly cited explanation of how these necklaces work that has any basis in scientific/medical theory is that baltic amber contains succinic acid, which is found in our body naturally (it is actually part of one of the metabolic cycles in our bodies called the krebs cycle). When these amber beads are in contact with the warm skin of a teething infant, it is proposed that the succinic acid is “released” from the bead and absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream which then provides relief of pain (among curing other medical ailments). Studies show that even large amounts of succinic acid are non-toxic, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even allows succinic acid to be used as a food additive. So several questions that arise for me are:
1) Is body temperature really enough to cause this succinic acid to “melt” out of the amber beads?
2) Just how much succinic acid would really “melt” from these amber beads and get absorbed through the skin in real use?
3) What dose of succinic acid is needed to cause any physiologic or analgesic effect?
And the answer to all of these questions as of the writing of this article is “We really don’t know!” More testing and studies need to be done before any of these questions can be more definitively answered.
To be thorough for my beloved readers however, I did a fairly thorough Pubmed search. And after my research, the truth is there are really no scientific based, randomized controlled trials (the best kind of study out there) in regards to amber teething necklaces and succinic acid in infants. So whether there is a small amount of succinic acid released from these beads and then absorbed into the body leading to diminished pain and therefore less fussiness or if these necklaces have a purely placebo effect, it is hard to know for sure from a scientific standpoint. So then, what is the downside?
Here is my biggest concern. It is a necklace with small beads placed around the neck of child. Red flags go up all over the place- necklace=strangulation risk, small beads=choking hazard. Yes, let me stop you there. I realize that with the “proper fit” of these teething necklaces, there should not be enough slack to cause an entrapment risk. I also realize they should “break” if too much strain is put on them (to me that means beads could go flying everywhere…again, I know each bead is supposed to be knotted separately and therefore, not come flying off if the necklace is broken). But how many times has your child gotten into something you didn’t think was possible? To me, if unsupervised, these necklaces are just not worth the “what if” risk. Once again, I know the websites all recommend taking the necklace off when sleeping or unsupervised, but let’s be honest…when is perceived teething pain the worst? At night, of course. And while many sites may recommend wrapping the necklace around the ankle and covering with a sock when sleeping, again I ask, what if your child gets that necklace off their little ankle? Lastly, are you going to take this necklace off every time you are in the car (since your child 2 and under should be in a rear facing car seat and therefore, unsupervised)?
“For me, plain and simple, a necklace of small beads, whether they contain succinic acid or not, is not worth any of these risks”
So, in the end, do I think these amber teething necklaces are harmful if the proper size is worn while supervised at all times? No, probably not. There are many anecdotal stories from parents out there about how children were immediately without teething pain/fussiness as soon as these necklaces were worn. But once again this is a time where parents must weigh the risks of an intervention with the perceived benefit (although it is one with no scientific evidence to this end) and decide what is best for their own family. For me, plain and simple, a necklace of small beads, whether they contain succinic acid or not, is not worth any of these risks, and so I will continue on those nights when my little one is fussy and covered in drool (both him and me), to change out those cold washcloths, let him gnaw my fingers, and hope that those chompers emerge as quickly as possible.