Teething can make some babies miserable! What’s a parent to do for those new teeth and sore gums? Talking to other parents and googling can lead to learning about amber jewelry, like amber teething anklets, bracelets, or necklaces. Those that sell the amber products often say that just wearing the amber-based jewelry can help calm a baby’s teething pain. They cite the properties of authentic baltic amber releasing something called succinic acid, and say this leads to pain relief. Sadly, there’s no evidence that this is true for the jewelry made for babies.
In fact, pediatricians do not recommend using such amber necklaces to help a baby’s teething complaints.
I’ll break everything down in this post, including the theory behind the succinic acid and why it just doesn’t apply to what babies can wear. I’ll also cover why these amber teething necklaces are not only ineffective, but actually (unfortunately) dangerous.
Where amber comes from
Amber is a fossilized tree resin, so it’s not a precious stone, gem or rock. It’s a sort of honey-color and almost feels like plastic. Many artisans tout raw amber, natural amber, or genuine baltic amber as the amber they use in their jewelry.
The amber can be made into small beads. The beads can then be strung into anklets, necklaces, and bracelets. It’s these amber bead necklaces that are marketed to parents of teething babies.
Amber for teething anklets, bracelets, and necklaces
So, why would someone choose amber for their baby to wear? (No one intends for the baby to put the amber directly in their mouth).
Many believe that baltic amber has healing properties and acts as a natural analgesic or pain reliever. Specifically, people refer to the succinic acid within the amber itself. Some argue that a baby’s body heat can sufficiently warm the amber beads to a point that succinic acid is released. They then claim the succinic acid can also be absorbed through the baby’s skin and then into the bloodstream at levels that ease the inflammation from teething.
This is not to debate the healing properties of things found in nature, amber or otherwise. I am here to help dispel this specific theory. I don’t want parents to waste money or put their baby in danger (see below) based on faulty information. If someone chooses to use amber teething bracelets, it’s best if they choose it for reasons that align with their own values, not for reasons based on incorrect “science.”
Amber and succinic acid
Succinic acid is a chemical with many possible uses, including as part of food additives. It’s also a natural substance found in some foods themselves. And, yes, it’s also found in amber. It’s part of the amber itself and isn’t easily released or separated from the fossilized resin. It’s part of the basic structure.
Those that make the amber teething necklaces (often specifically the baltic amber necklaces) say the succinic acid works as an anti-inflammatory chemical.
In order to address the many thoughts and theories about amber teething bracelets, Australian researchers studied under which conditions succinic acid can be released from the amber beads.
Here’s what the research found:
- First, the intact amber beads did not release succinic acid. The scientists tried to simulate “human skin conditions” to see if that would cause the release. It didn’t.
- Once some beads broke into shards, a very small amount of the succinic acid could be extracted. It was only the light-colored beads, and it was a tiny amount. (It should go without saying that most of us would not have our baby wear beads that have broken into shards).
- Separately, they studied the succinic acid. It did not have anti-inflammatory or immune-boosting properties. (Granted, there is more than one way to test these things, but the results are compelling nevertheless).
- At higher concentrations, succinic acid was toxic.
In other words, this scientific research found that not only does amber not easily (or safely) release succinic acid, but that the succinic acid itself wouldn’t help with inflammation or pain relief.
Safety concerns for teething jewelry
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies avoid jewelry in general. There are choking and strangulation risks. With something like an amber teething necklace, the safety risks are even higher because parents often leave it on indefinitely. The websites that sell these products discuss leaving it on for hours to weeks to see an effect, though they do say to take them off while babies sleep. I’ve noticed that parents don’t really notice them as much after their baby has started to wear them. It could be easy to forget to take them off when needed.
Tragically, there have been cases accidental strangulation from amber teething necklaces.
Even though the small beads may be individually knotted (so as to prevent all the beads coming off if part of the necklace breaks), it’s still possible for beads to break off and be a choking hazard. It’s worth remembering the other small parts found on necklaces, like the screw clasp, can also be a risk.
So, it’s not just for the lack of efficacy that I (and other pediatricians) advise against amber teething jewelry, it’s also because of these very high risks.
Note on bacteria and amber teething necklaces
For completeness, I also must note research on bacterial colonization. In this study, researchers tested amber teething necklaces that babies happened to be wearing when they went to the hospital. All the necklaces had bacteria on them. Several with potentially harmful bacteria. Of course, there’s usually bacteria on a baby’s skin or a baby’s neck anyway. A necklace may not be washed as often and can be a place for the bacteria to settle and grow.
If babies or young children do wear jewelry, including amber, I suggest parents consider:
- All jewelry requires adult supervision. Never leave the baby unattended while they are wearing the jewelry. This includes the car seat when a parent’s eye may be averted for a few seconds. This also includes sleep.
- Some may opt for an amber teething anklet over a necklace, to reduce strangulation risk.
So, what’s a parent to do if they’re looking for natural teething relief?
If your baby is struggling with teething discomfort, please reach out to their dentist (remember they should see a dentist as soon as their teeth erupt or by age 12 months) or pediatrician who can offer tailored suggestions. For many, massaging a baby’s gums with a wet washcloth can be a great way to soothe!
While there are other natural remedies, it’s not safe to use numbing teething gels that have “benzocaine” listed as an active ingredient. (I discuss benzocaine more in this post about cough drops).
There’s no scientific evidence that amber teething anklets, bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry are effective for teething pain relief. The choking and strangulation risk, however, is very real. Thankfully, there are other safer options for relieving a baby’s discomfort.
Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.
This is for information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.