Amber teething necklaces: a deadly form of maternal micro-branding

baby toddler wearing amber teeth pain relief neckless

Every war requires uniforms so that you can tell ally from enemy. The mommy wars are no exception.

Amber teething necklaces for infants are part of the crunchy mommy “look” that allows self-described natural mothers to signal their allied status to other crunchy moms and to set them apart from the mainstream. Too bad that amber teething necklaces are deadly, but babies must make sacrifices to promote their mother’s brand.

Amber teething necklaces not only AREN’T useful for treating teething pain, they COULDN’T be useful since the active ingredient isn’t released from the beads.

The FDA has received reports of death and serious injuries to infants and children, including strangulation and choking, caused by necklaces and bracelets often marketed for relieving teething pain… The risks of using teething jewelry include choking, strangulation, injury to the mouth, and infection…

Strangulation can happen if a necklace is wrapped too tightly around the child’s neck or if the necklace catches on an object such as a crib. The FDA received a report of an 18-month old child who was strangled to death by his amber teething necklace during a nap…

This is not rocket science, people! The same babies who should have grapes cut up for them to prevent choking shouldn’t be adorned with small beads that will close off their airways if swallowed. The same babies who shouldn’t be allowed near drapery cords for fear of strangulation shouldn’t have cords draped around their necks.

Why would anyone with a modicum of common sense put an amber teething necklace on a baby?

According to The Natural Mama’s Guide to Amber Teething Necklaces:

Amber teething necklaces are designed to be worn by babies when they are teething. The common belief is that the child’s body heats the amber, causing it to release oils containing succinic acid. The succinic acid, in theory, gets absorbed into the bloodstream, helping to easy baby’s pain…

In theory, when placed around baby’s neck, Baltic amber warms up, causing it to release oils that contain succinic acid. The acid, in turn, gets absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream.

There’s just two teeny, tiny problems with the theory: Succinic acid ISN’T an effective pain reliever and it ISN’T released from amber beads.

Anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows that there is a tremendous commercial market for pain relievers yet no pharmaceutical company is markets succinic acid as a pain reliever. It is sold for other reasons, however:

Succinic acid is used primarily as an acidity regulator in the food and beverage industry. It is also available as a flavoring agent, contributing a somewhat sour and astringent component to umami taste. As an excipient in pharmaceutical products, it is also used to control acidity or as a counter ion. Drugs involving succinate include metoprolol succinate, sumatriptan succinate, Doxylamine succinate or solifenacin succinate.

So crunchy moms are draping their babies in a choking hazard because it releases a substance used as a food and drug additive. Except that it doesn’t even do that.

According to a scientific abstract looking at release of succinic acid from amber beads.

Infrared spectroscopy was used to confirm that the teething necklaces were made of Baltic amber. The amount of succinic acid contained within the beads was quantified, and succinic acid release from intact beads was measured in phosphate buffered saline (PBS) pH 5.5 or octanol to simulate aqueous or oily skin environments.

RESULTS: Each necklace (33 beads in length) contained 19.17±4.89 mg of succinic acid (mean±se). Over a 6-month period, no succinic acid was detected in PBS, while 0.13±0.09 mg of succinic acid per necklace was released in octanol. Only one replicate of amber beads in octanol released succinic acid, and they had fragmented, with shards free-floating in the solvent.

DISCUSSION: It is likely succinic acid was only detected because the beads were breaking down in octanol, which does not occur when worn around the neck of a child. Furthermore, the hydrophilic properties of succinic acid would not favour its absorption across hydrophobic layers of the skin and into the bloodstream.

CONCLUSION: While the teething necklaces do contain small quantities of succinic acid, it is highly unlikely to be released from intact beads.

So amber teething necklaces not only AREN’T useful for treating teething pain, they COULDN’T be useful for treating teething pain since the active ingredient isn’t released from the beads.

What’s really going on here?

Amber teething necklaces are part of the maternal micro-branding culture. The necklaces offer mothers an opportunity to signal to their allies that they are crunchy and to signal to the mainstream that they are transgressive. They are part of what Alison Phipps calls the “politics of recognition.”

‘Natural’ birth and breastfeeding have become part of an identity package around organic or holistic parenting, while formula feeding and birth interventions (and in particular, caesarean sections) form aspects of a negative Other associated with other practices such as ‘cry-it-out’, vaccination and corporal punishment …

Crunchy mothers may be wrong about the pain relieving properties of deadly amber bead necklaces, but they are correct that such necklaces are a form of micro branding.

Sadly, they brand these mothers as anti-science, gullible and desperate for affirmation.

  • Ayr

    I always thought these necklaces were dangerous and pointless, my son never had teething pain and hopefully my daughter won’t either. I mean who in their right mind would put an obvious choking/strangulation hazard around their child’s neck? Oh that’s right they aren’t in their right mind…

  • RMY

    I’ve alienated so many MommyBloggers over this issue…

  • fiftyfifty1

    Teething pain. Yet another area of biology that differs widely person to person. My children showed no signs of teething whatsoever-no fussiness, no drooling, no fever, no disrupted sleep, no drooling, no gnawing. The only way I knew that they had teethed was that they had new teeth in their mouths. My mother says that I was the same as were all my siblings. Obviously I don’t remember my baby years but I do remember the eruption of my 6 year, 12 year, and wisdom molars, and all were entirely painless. I would not have known it was happening except that I could feel them coming through my gums with my tongue. But I have friends whose children are miserable each and every time, and who remember that their own molar eruptions hurt. And this isn’t a general pain tolerance thing either. It’s not that I could tolerate the pain of teething, it’s that it literally produced no sensation in me. And the reverse is true in other areas of biology. Right from the start I had such severe menstrual cramps that I puked and nearly passed out. Many of my friends say that for them, their menses occur without any sensation. They only know they have their periods when they see the blood.

    • mabelcruet

      My mother rubbed Drambuie on my gums because that had worked for my older siblings. Drambuie is a whiskey liqueur, 40% proof. It worked as a teething cure, but not one I would recommend…(unless you want child protection services on your tail)

    • Gæst

      My kids also showed no signs of teething except teeth.

  • rational thinker

    Why don’t these morons just use baby oragel? Or is that an evil chemical in woo/fantasy world.

    • swbarnes2

      The active ingredient in oragel a dangerous chemical here in reality land.

      • rational thinker

        I just looked it up you are correct I haven’t had a teething baby in a long time so I was not aware of its FDA status.

    • Mel

      Starting in 2014, the FDA has warned parents against using Orajel for infants – and eventually expanded the warning to include adults using it for mouth pain. Between 2009-2017, the FDA found 119 cases of methemoglobinemia correlated with benzocaine product use. Most required medical treatment. 22 of the cases were in children. In the full group of cases it lead to four deaths including one infant. Case studies showed that 1) half of the illnesses came while using the medication appropriately and 2) the illness could come on at any point regardless of previous exposure.

      Here’s the most recent FDA blurb https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm608265.htm A previous version included the information on case studies.

      I’m glad the FDA found that link – but after reading what they had found my husband and I agreed that we felt comfortable using Orajel sparingly on our son when he was having severe teething pain combined with a plan to seek immediate medical attention if he seemed to have shortness of breath or cyanosis and alert medical professionals to his history of BPD along with our concerns involving Orajel.

      • rational thinker

        This is the first time I have heard about that. I used it on both my kids but that was over ten years ago. Thanks for updating me on this.

    • rational thinker

      My apologies everyone, I have learned about the FDA status of the active ingredient of oragel. But its still probably safer than amber necklaces being a choking hazard.

  • rosewater1

    OT update. The mom of my new great niece, my nephew’s fiancee, had a massive stroke last night. She had a brain bleed. She came through surgery but the doctor wasn’t optimistic-and still isn’t. She woke up, squeezed the nurse’s hand when asked to, and tried to talk to her mother and my nephew. This is good news because they had not been sure she would wake up. Please pray.

    • Praying for more good news. I’m so sorry this has happened.

      • rosewater1

        Thank you to everyone for the incredibly kind words and the prayers. She is awake, and breathing on her own. My nephew took the baby in to see her. She can move her right side, and moved her left arm with some coaxing. Lots of progress, but a long way to go. Please keep praying.

        • rosewater1

          Also, the “evil hospital” let her have the baby lying on her chest yesterday. Such awful people, don’t you know.

        • rational thinker

          Glad to hear that hopefully she will make even more progress.

        • fiftyfifty1

          Oh, this is very encouraging news! Please keep us updated.

    • PeggySue

      Hoping along with you for more good news. How very awful.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      So sorry to hear that. Squeezing the nurse’s hand and trying to speak to her family are encouraging signs!

    • FormerPhysicist

      Praying.

  • EMT2014

    The British use bracelets rather than necklaces, which eliminates the strangulation issue but not the choking hazard. There’s a bit about them in an episode of Doc Martin, wherein the good doctor calls them “a placebo for desperate parents.”

    Also, real amber is expensive but indistinguishable from high-quality plastic fakes unless you’re a jeweler–so if you paid less than $50 for your stupid useless strangulation hazard it’s probably not even real.

  • Box of Salt

    A question for our commenters from Slavic countries: has this amber-as-pain-reliever notion penetrated the mommy-woo of countries that have exported the stuff for centuries?

    • zuul

      I’m American, but I lived and traveled for a couple of years along the Baltic Sea, staying with my family there. There were famous amber markets there that had been operating for centuries in those towns. Twenty years ago, I saw no teething necklaces. It wasn’t a folk remedy as far as I know. My cousins with babies then didn’t use them or know of such a thing.

      Nowadays, from what I hear teething necklaces are practically a cottage industry, because there is a lot of demand in the US and Europe, so many women buy the low-grade/seconds beads from the local amber markets and then sell the teething gear on Etsy or other craft websites.

    • Inmara

      I’m from Baltic states; teething necklaces have just in recent years penetrated our mommy circles. Amber itself has been held as having some healing properties by wooish folks, so it has cought up with crunchy moms easily. There are only a few pediatricians raising concern about lack of efficacy and safety, unfortunately our medical professionals are prone to quackery most of times (homeopathy is a legit thing here, only MDs can legally be homeopaths).

    • nata

      not really. maybe started to arrive now from the West . That’s what made me sceptical right away – the quality was not discovered by the Baltic people who gathered amber in the first place

  • Allie

    We had one of these given to us as a gift. I had never heard of it, so I googled to find out what it was supposed to do. I had put it on like a bracelet, and my wrist actually went numb. I put it on her a few times, for brief periods under close supervision – never during naps or at night. One thing I definitely disagree with are dentists and doctors who insist teething doesn’t hurt. It clearly does cause discomfort and pain, but I would recommend Tylenol over an amber necklace any day. The risk clearly outweighs the benefits (if any).

    • Mel

      I remember when some of my molars broke through when I was a pre-teen. Those hurt – a lot! I found gnawing on pencils to be surprisingly comfortable because I could line an unsharpened pencil up to hit the sore spot perfectly. We gave our son full-sized wooden spoons when he was teething and that seemed to do the trick along with Tylenol.

      We also used Orajel sparingly when he was really uncomfortable. I know that there’s a chance of a very rare breathing disorder – but it’s really, really rare.

  • Heidi

    I don’t know if I’ve ever touched amber but is it not fairly hard? Could it not damage teeth? I mean, all the teethers I’ve seen have been gel or silicone, I assume for a reason.

    • demodocus

      It’s a rock. Not diamond, but then I don’t recommend chewing on sandstone, either. I don’t think they’re supposed to be chewed on, I think they’re just supposed to be a pain reliever. Not that that works.

    • AS

      For something used in jewlery, amber is very soft – 2 on moch scale. For comparison pearls are 2.5
      Tooth enamel is 5. Amber can’t scratch tooth any more than glass can scratch a diamond.

      It’s brittle though and if chewed on will inevitably shatter and become a choking hazard though, obviously.

  • Rita Rippetoe

    I had it drummed into me as a child never to put anything around my neck. I was bright enough to conclude that this applied to my children as well.

  • mabelcruet

    Things that babies have choked on (and ended up with me doing an autopsy on them): a pen top, a coin, a tiny plastic ball-one of those super high bouncing ones. Every history was the same-baby was at the ‘just about getting mobile’ stage, parents hadn’t quite caught up with the fact that their previously fairly immobile infant was now able to reach out and grasp small objects and that they needed to make sure small objects were out of reach. So knowing that babies will automatically put anything in their mouths, why the hell would you put dangerous objects within reach by purposefully drape them with something that can kill them?? What sort of oblivious thoughtless fuckwit ignoramus does that? Seriously, this is wilful neglect-you are responsible for your baby’s death by your thoughtless and reckless behaviour and I hope that whatever judicial investigation takes place, you are found guilty of neglect or child cruelty, if not manslaughter, because that’s what it is. I have no sympathy whatsoever for these parents-those poor babies need protection from them.

    • Cat

      It does worry me that the idea that “babies are designed so that they can’t choke” seems increasingly to get promoted to parents. A baby in my family recently had to go to A and E after choking on a piece of food. All fine, thank god. But I can guarantee that, if the parents mentioned the incident on the weaning boards of any of the big parenting websites, they’d be told by the first half-dozen posters that they overreacted to gagging, that healthy babies are “designed” so they can’t genuinely choke, and that they should have sat on their hands because the baby needs to be able to learn to deal with gagging incidents herself.

      Obviously this is in the context of food, not foreign objects, but if you drum into parents the idea that it’s not just very unlikely but actually impossible that their baby could choke on a chunk of raw apple or a hard biscuit, why should they worry about letting them play unsupervised with a bit of burst balloon or beads (both of which I’ve seen at baby groups)?

      • Cat

        I should add that I’m not arguing against giving hard finger foods to babies, just suggesting that “be vigilant and maybe take a paediatric first-aid course before you start weaning” is a better approach than “don’t worry, human babies have evolved to be lean, mean survival machines” . (I’ve had care of a five-week old rescued kitten and a human baby. The cat was so far ahead in the “lean, mean survival machine” stakes that I now laugh in the face of any argument that begins “human babies have evolved over thousands of years to be perfectly adapted to survive…” ).

        • kilda

          what a horrifying and dangerous idea.

      • mabelcruet

        ‘designed to that they can’t choke’?? These people are morons.

        The human body is very imperfect, and the pharynx-larynx-epiglottis area is a total evolutionary bodge -job. Perfectly healthy fully coordinated adults can choke very easily-its a mechanical misfunction that is common. If you were starting from scratch to design the perfect body, you absolutely would NOT design an common aerodigestive tract like the one we’ve ended up with.

        • fiftyfifty1

          I agree. It’s a terrible design to eat, drink and breathe all from the same hole. Why can’t we be like whales instead? (And then we should fix the part where we pee, poop, screw and give birth all within about an inch of each other.)

          • mabelcruet

            And also fix the knees. They need to bend in more directions.

          • Kq

            And they need a better half life

          • Who?

            Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone…

          • My knees just need to bend, period.

          • Mel

            At least we have a separation – monotremes, amphibians, reptiles and birds have a single external exit for all three systems.

        • Daleth

          Perfectly healthy fully coordinated adults can choke very easily-its a mechanical misfunction that is common.

          A friend of my dad’s died that way during a restaurant dinner. Ask these morons, at what point in the process of growing up does this allegedly perfectly designed infant esophagus become able to choke?

        • Melissa Wickersham

          One of Arthur Clarke’s science fiction novels had scientists talk about how an extraterrestrial creature could evolve that had a mouth on it’s abdominal area, closest to the stomach. Later on in the book, extraterrestrials like the one talked about earlier were encountered. Said aliens breathed with openings on their chests that looked like nipples. The scientists in the novel said that the human body was terribly inefficient.

      • Cristina

        “Babies can’t choke” is a thing now?!

        • kilda

          seriously, how delusional are these people? they seem to think that babies are impervious to all harm. Cut off their oxygen during delivery, starve them with nothing but drops of colostrum for days, let them “learn to manage their gagging.” None of it will hurt them! Oh, but let a drop of formula into them, now that will damage them for life.

          I’d really like to see every parent who ever lost a child to choking line up and slap these idiots.

        • Angharad

          When my oldest was born, I was really concerned when I was trying to breastfeed her because her nose seemed to be smooshed up against my breast and I didn’t think she had a clear airway. The nurse told me that it was impossible for a baby to be suffocated while breastfeeding because of the design of their noses.
          I wasn’t quite convinced, but it was an actual medical professional in the hospital giving me the advice, so I thought maybe she was right. I still stopped the breastfeeding session, but I can see how people get these ideas.

      • Mel

        My son had problems with panicking when he’d have reflux and choke/stop breathing. (I never did figure out if he had a mechanical obstruction from the reflux or simply freaked out and just plain forgot the whole breathing thing; either way, I moved into infant choking first aid until he started breathing again)

        I watched him like a hawk when he was eating solid foods.

        He did have some gagging moments and I generally let him do his own thing – but there is one huge caveat.

        I was standing next to his high chair getting ready to pull the tray and remove him if the volume of his gagging decreased or he looked panicky/distressed or flailed his arms like he did when he choked.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      Thank you, the first time I read about these things I was sputtering with pretty much your entire paragraph: WHAT! WTF?!? why! Oh HELL NO!

      My daughter put everything in her mouth until she was almost 4, it was so hard to break her of this habit. We were paranoid about leaving anything even possibly choking hazardous around her. WTF would you put something ON your child deliberately, that could kill them and was also totally pointless. (yes I understand being sleep deprived by a teething baby, my daughter got her first 4 teeth all within the same week or so, it was hell, we went through teething rings, frozen teething rings and teething biscuits by the box full)

  • rational thinker

    Amber beads are a favorite of crunchy mamas cause nothing says “im better than you” than an amber necklace around the neck of her beautiful PROP oh I mean baby

  • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

    Also, if these things actually worked by heating up and releasing a chemical, wouldn’t they be dissolving? Shouldn’t they be smaller at the end of teething than at the beginning or are they some sort infinite fount of magic chemicals?

    • fiftyfifty1

      Exactly. Amber is ancient. Some of it has lasted intact for literally hundreds of millions of years. Yet we are supposed to believe that all it takes is warming it to 98.6 deg and then it starts leaching?

    • Mel

      That’s what happened to the Amber Room of Catherine the Great! The fires got too warm and the whole thing evaporated!

      I just gave my son my extra wooden spoons from the kitchen. My mom did the same thing for us. The spoon end was Spawn’s preferred end when he was working on his front teeth and the handle comes in handy when there’s a sore molar or canine…..

  • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

    My sister in law and mother in law are way into this shit, and I am so afraid one of them will get one for my daughter for Christmas.

    • rational thinker

      just smile say thank you and throw it out when you get home lol

      • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

        Unfortunately, we are staying a few days…

        • Daleth

          Might be a good idea to prepare a little script. Sound as nice and non-judgmental as possible as you say, “Thanks, but we don’t let her wear necklaces — they’re a choking hazard at her age.”

          Notice the subtlety: do NOT say anything bad about amber or amber teething necklaces specifically. Just all necklaces.

          • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

            That may be my strategy, and hopefully they don’t push it.

          • Daleth

            hopefully they don’t push it.

            You mean, hopefully they don’t try to argue with you about how it’s okay to put a choking hazard around your toddler’s neck?! That would be not just idiotic on their part, but rude. If they go there, just repeat what you said and change the subject. “Oh gosh, look at the time, I have to go put the side dish we brought into the oven” could work. 🙂

          • Mel

            Do you have an actively teething infant? (And I mean like a hot drooling mess of a cranky crabby patty baby.)

            Because if your kiddo is plausibly not teething or not teething hard, simply smile and pack it in your suitcase for later.

            Ofc, what you will be doing with it later is moving it to the trash – but you can leave that bit out.

          • Merrie

            This is a great strategy. Reframing the issue so that they’re not arguing the validity of the amber necklace, they’re arguing about choking hazards. It’s not really so much the amber necklace specifically that we object to, it’s any necklace, and the amber necklace isn’t exempt from that, despite any benefits it supposedly has.

        • rational thinker

          Tell them “the baby” accidentally flushed it down the toilet.

    • Melissa Wickersham

      Use it as a jewelry bracelet for your wrists. That’s all those stupid amber teething things are good for anyway.

      • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

        But I don’t want all those chemicals to leach into *my* blood stream!

      • demodocus

        They’re not all that gaudy; I wouldn’t mind one and I’ve a very quiet sense of clothing style. Except my socks. THOSE are gaudy. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/35d1263acb0a52eca24ba29469ca5ac8d7b4a4fdb7cc388b4b836321c66030fc.jpg

        • Who?

          Amber is actually quite beautiful. It’s not my thing colour-wise so I’m not tempted to buy and wear it, but would happily loop some baby beads into a bracelet to protect a child from choking.

        • Who?

          Love those socks, they look so cosy!

  • KQ Not Signed In

    Typo: “The same babies who **shouldn’t** be allowed near drapery cords”

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Thanks! Fixed it.

    • fiftyfifty1

      Yeah drapery cords, a total kid magnet. I remember a game we played when we were little where we would wind them around our necks and shoulders and pretend to be ponies in a harness.

      • mabelcruet

        Dressing gown belts. I got a case of a 4-5 year old who had tied his dressing gown around his neck to turn it into a superhero cape sort of thing, then jumped off the top bunk of his bunk bed. The belt caught on the vertical part of the bed frame and he was asphyxiated. Kids are very inventive when it comes to ways and means of accidentally harming or injuring themselves.

        • fiftyfifty1

          I looked up dressing gowns (Americans, it is a bathrobe made of thinner material) and I can see why he thought it would make a good cape, and how that happened. So sad.