Vrinda Kumar, M.D.

Vrinda Kumar, M.D.

A growing trend for non-medicinal approaches to pain control and teething in children are becoming more popular.

Teething is a fairly long process which can start as early as 3 to 4 months and last as long as two years when children are getting their two-year molars. Some kids do great with teething and exhibit no symptoms. Some kids, however, get fussy, low grade fevers, green slimy stools, eat less, drool excessively, and do not sleep well.

For the parents of the latter group, it can be stressful and distressing to see your child so fussy. There are a lot of teething remedies available, but one remedy that has become more popular in recent years is the Baltic amber teething necklace, which can be found in some stores and on the internet. Baltic amber supposedly has a substance called succinic acid which is a natural pain reliever. The theory is that this substance gets absorbed through the skin and provides pain relief and relieves some of the other symptoms associated with teething. These necklaces are just long enough to fit around a child’s neck but not so long that a child can put it in their mouths.

Some moms I have met swear by these and say that it calms their child down and decreases drooling. So, I started wondering…is there any scientific behind this? The answer is no. There is ANECDOTAL evidence (moms saying it works), but there is no science behind it whatsoever. Dr. Andrew Weil, a world leader in integrative medicine, says the use of these necklaces is not supported by modern science. There is no evidence that the succinic acid actually can absorbed in the skin to a level that can help with pain relief.teething

There are, however, several cases of strangulation and choking from the necklaces. The AAP and AAFP highly discourage the use of these necklaces. Amber is a “soft stone”, meaning it can easily crumble under the weight of a human bite. Putting a string of beads around a child’s neck poses a strangulation hazard, and putting it around an extremity poses the risk of strangulation to the point of cutting the blood supply from that extremity. Some of the necklaces have a magnetic clasp which opens when pulled (in theory to decrease strangulation hazards). But then, you have to think, if the clasp opens, it’s in the child’s reach which means they can put it in their mouths.

Bottom line, the use of these (and the supposed benefits) are not scientifically proven, and they do pose strangulation/choking risk.  I encourage patients to consider alternative forms of pain control for teething (e.g. Orajel Naturals).