Amber Teething Necklaces

I had the wonderful opportunity to write an article on teething for our local Parents and Kids magazine.  Nowadays, when I discuss teething, I am frequently asked about amber teething jewelry.  Until writing the article, I had not dug deep into the research to understand all the ins and outs of this topic.  I feel like I understand it so much better now!  It is easy to spout my opinion on topics, but it’s just that… an opinion.  Let’s get to the cold, hard facts!

Amber was made popular by the cult-classic film, Jurassic Park.  What a glorious plot line: cloning a dinosaur from a mosquito preserved in amber.  That is Hollywood gold right there!  For thousands of years, amber has been touted for its healing properties.  Some believe that it cleanses the body and mind, absorbs pain and negative energy, clears depression, promotes self-confidence and self-expression.

What are amber teething beads?  They are a piece of jewelry (necklace or bracelet) that a child wears to aid in teething discomfort. 

What is amber?  Amber is fossilized tree resin.

Do they chew on the beads?  The beads are not meant to be chewed on but simply worn by the child. 

How would beads help relieve teething pain?  Amber contains a substance called succinic acid.  Succinic acid is an anti-inflammatory agent.  It has been approved by the FDA and is used to treat arthritis in creams and can be used in tablet forms as a blood pressure medication and to treat migraines.  The theory behind the amber beads is that the child’s body temperature warms the beads and as the amber is warmed, succinic acid is released and taken up by the body.  Once it is absorbed into the blood stream, the succinic acid relieves pain by reducing inflammation.

Does it work?  This is where things get debatable.  There is not enough research at this point to prove or disprove if it works consistently.  Some mamas swear by these beads and some see no difference.

What is the downside to wearing the jewelry?  The American Academy of Pediatrics and FDA have issued statements discouraging children from wearing jewelry.  Necklaces can be a strangulation hazard and the beads, if broken off, can be a choking hazard.

What do the studies show?  Thanks to the invention of Google, it is easy to find a study to support just about any side of an argument.  My background is heavily research based.  In college, I conducted research with the University of Mississippi Dental School in the Biomaterials department and in dental school, I conducted separate research studies for the Periodontic department.  Once I was in my pediatric dental residency, I had to complete a research study and it was in community health.  I do not say this to brag, only to say that I have a bit of experience in this arena.  All research is not created equally, valid research takes time, is well thought out, must have the Institutional Review Board Approval (IRB), has a specific hypothesis/null-hypothesis, and typically uses other valid studies to support the findings.  All of this to say, because the FDA has found the necklaces to be a choking/strangulation hazard, the IRB has trouble approving studies where children are involved.  Some studies have been conducted using the beads in a saline solution that at different temperatures for a certain amount of time to measure how much succinic acid has been released from the beads to see if it reaches a therapeutic dose (dose high enough to relieve pain).  These studies have shown that the succinic acid is not released from the amber until it reaches a temperature of 392°F.  This is higher than body temperature at 98.6°F.

What are my options to relieve teething pain?

  1. Objects for the child to chew on: Sophie the Giraffe, banana toothbrush, frozen teethers, frozen or warm wash cloths
  2. Tylenol or Motrin

**Please do not use Orajel or Hyland’s Teething Tablets.  They can reach toxic levels quickly in infants.  I will write a full blog post on this topic in the future.