Do amber necklaces work?
Why Doc Smitty says to save your money
After many sleepless nights with your 9 month old, no one could be faulted because they are looking for something, anything to get a good night’s sleep.
After these, I think I have many of my readers wondering what in the world they are supposed to do when their child seems to be teething.
There are a select few of you out there who think you have found a loophole … their children are walking around sporting brownish yellow bling around their necks, are as happy as can be at all times and are sleeping through the night like little angels. Right?
Do amber teething necklaces work? If so, how?
Websites selling amber necklaces are all over the place when discussing how they might work to control symptoms that are commonly associated with teething.
They tend to center around three main concepts:
- Magnetism, energy or natural flow of energy
- Thyroid gland stimulation to control drooling
- Succinic acid released causing anti-inflammatory and pain relieving
Magnetism, energy or natural flow of energy
I found this quote in one of the top-ranking articles regarding how amber teething necklaces might treat teething pain:
“The unfavorable environmental conditions prevailing today block the natural flow of energy-related processes in cells. Blocks affect cellular metabolism and significantly weaken the immune system, but the natural energy of amber is able to stimulate its renewal.”
Thyroid gland stimulation to control drooling (or other symptoms)
The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormone which increases metabolism. This results in a whole list of changes inside our bodies, including:
- Increasing body temperature
- Faster, stronger heart beat
- Brain development and growth in children
Slowing drooling is not a function of the thyroid; thus stimulating it would not result in less drooling.
Stimulating the thyroid could result in increased body temperature (which is, ironically, often one of the symptoms of teething that people are trying to treat).
Succinic acid release causing anti-inflammatory and pain relieving
Perhaps the MOST logical explanation (and most often referenced) for why amber teething necklaces might work for teething pain is that amber contains 3-8 percent succinic acid.
Succinic acid is a chemical that is found naturally in the body and is involved in an energy producing chemical cycle known as the Krebs cycle. The basis of the reasoning behind why succinic acid treats teething symptoms is that it is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Let’s look at a few problems with the assumption:
1. I can only find one study that even shows succinic acid to have anti-inflammatory effects. It is almost 30 years old and was published in a journal I have never heard of, in Russian.
2. Assuming succinic acid does treat pain associated with teething, how does the succinic acid get into the child’s body? Amber is fossilized tree resin which is formed under extreme heat and pressure. The Wikipedia article on amber states, “Exposure to sunlight, rain and temperate extremes tends to desintegrate resin, and the process is assisted by micoorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. For resin to survive long enough to become amber, it must be resistent to such forces or be produced under conditions that exlude these." How is it, all of the sudden, that amber decides to release succinic acid in response to 98.6* temperatures and gentle pressure from your child's neck? Seems unlikely.
3. Let’s assume that 1 and 2 are wrong and that succinic does treat pain associated with teething and will absorb into the child’s body from the necklace. How much is absorbed? Medication applied to skin is notoriously unreliable with children.
Let’s flip this around. Say an established drug company comes up with a treatment for a common condition that is not dangerous but may cause some discomfort. The drug rep comes to my office to promote the drug…
Me: Ok, this all sounds great? So, what is the dose? How does the dose change as the child gets older?
Drug rep: Ummmm, we don’t know really. We haven’t really looked into “dosing.”
Me: So, how do you know this works?
Drug rep: Well, it’s actually been around a long time, we just put it in a different package so we’re pretty sure it works and is safe.
Despite the fact that on the surface it seems plausible, I don’t think the succinic acid claim holds up as a mechanism where amber necklaces could work for teething.
Is it a choking hazard?
We have to address these necklaces as a choking hazard. It’s interesting. People say they aren’t a strangulation hazard because they break. Ok. But then they say they aren’t a choking hazard because the beads are tied individually.
I say, you can’t have it both ways. If they break, they have to break somewhere and a bead has to get loose. And if you’ve seen the size of these beads … looks like a choking hazard to me.
So, why do amber teething necklaces “work?”
It’s really based on three points…
1. Teething symptoms are vague and most are only mythically related to teething.
2. Teething symptoms go away on their own 100 percent of the time.
3. Parents are desperate to help when they assume their kids are in pain.
Studies are pretty clear that teething symptoms really only last a day or two around the day that the teeth erupt. Many of the symptoms commonly associated with teething may actually be normal developmental issues-drooling, waking up at night, etc.
Knowing whether a specific treatment for “teething symptoms” works or not is almost impossible. But, for parents who had concerns and tried amber teething necklaces, the results seems magical. Doing something is often thought to be better than doing nothing. It’s certainly easier to brag about.
I have yet to see a Facebook post that says, “My kid was MISERABLE with teething last week but look at him today!! I found the miracle cure - I did absolutely NOTHING! You should try it too.”
I’m coming into a place where I’m not sure treating teething with anything makes sense, even your typical pain relievers. For this reason and because I cannot find a plausible explanation for why they work, I think parents should save their money when it comes to amber teething necklaces.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician. He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.