Amber teething necklaces, which are used to relieve pain in teething and colicky babies, have become more and more popular over the last several years. When my daughter was born six years ago, many of my friends asked if I would be using amber teething necklaces. Now that I’m expecting my son, it seems like these little trinkets are unavoidable. With so many moms and dads recommending amber teething necklaces, it seems like they must work fairly well, but the fact is that these supposedly pain-relieving crystals don’t work and they might actually be dangerous.
Advocates for amber teething necklaces (consisting almost entirely of people who sell them for profit) claim that the necklaces reduce teething pain because of a compound called succinic acid, which one retailer touts can “helps fight toxic free radicals, helps improve the immune system, and reduces stress.” Baltic amber, which is a fossilized tree resin and is generally the form used in teething necklaces, does contain succinic acid, but there’s not much validity to claims about its medicinal effects.
There’s no reason to believe that succinic acid in amber can absorb through a baby’s skin, because it is a compound built into a solid crystal that is literally rock-hard and does not excrete oil or any other kind of fluid. The melting point for amber is far above the body temperature of even the most fevered baby, so expecting it to seep into the baby’s skin is no wiser than putting an iron rod under his pillow and expecting it to treat anemia. Human babies magically absorb medicine or nutrients in ways that contradict physics.
Even if succinic acid in amber teething necklaces did absorb through skin, there’s no evidence that it works. Succinic acid is found in many foods and plants; it’s abundant in nature and nontoxic. While a little succinic acid might be theoretically harmless, there’s no reason to think it works to treat teething pain. There hasn’t been a single study of the use of succinic acid or Baltic amber to relieve pain, improve the immune system, or reduce stress. One very small study in 2003 suggested that large amounts of oral succinic acid might reduce anxiety in mice being exposed to dangerously high temperatures, but it’s quite a leap to assume that the same findings could be applied to teething human children.
Finally, there’s a lot of reason to suspect that amber teething necklaces could be dangerous. A report in Pediatrics in Review notes that amber necklaces are among many traditional treatments that have no evidence to back them and could in fact prove very dangerous. They have popped up several times in the media because of children choking and strangling while using these little charms. Although advocates of amber teething necklaces note that they are supposed to be used with supervision and should never be chewed or sucked, it’s a risk that I wouldn’t be willing to take for a treatment that is very unlikely to work.
For my family, amber teething necklaces are a no-go and we’ll stick with safer, more effective methods for relieving teething pain. I don’t want to subject my children to something that could be dangerous (not to mention expensive) unless there’s a good reason to think that it will work. If you’re concerned about your baby’s stress or discomfort from teething, get in touch with his pediatrician for tips on relieving the pain safely and effectively.