Baltic amber necklaces, as they are known, have become popular as an alternative treatment to ease teething pain in infants and toddlers in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and, increasingly, the United States. Retailers claim that when warmed by the baby's body temperature, the amber releases a pain-relieving substance that is then absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream.
But there is no evidence to back up these claims, and a larger concern is the significant suffocation hazard posed by the teething necklaces, particularly if children are left unattended.
"The risk is two-fold — strangulation and choking," said Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Kansas City, Mo., who has blogged about the dangers of amber necklaces. "And that's not only for these teething necklaces. In general practice, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend that infants wear any jewelry."
In 2010, Health Canada, the country's federal department of public health, determined that the necklaces were enough of an issue to warrant a consumer product safety warning that highlighted the strangulation risk. France and Switzerland have banned sale of the necklaces in pharmacies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suffocation is the leading cause of death for children under a year old and among the top five causes of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4.
Vendors of Baltic amber necklaces commonly advertise that the necklaces are safe because the string is knotted between each individual bead, so if the necklace breaks only one piece will fall off. But one loose bead is enough for a child to choke on, said Dr. Isabelle Claudet, head of the pediatric emergency department at Children's Hospital in Toulouse, France. And because the necklaces are produced and sold by smaller vendors, the lack of manufacturing standards makes it impossible to guarantee that any safety clasps will come apart as intended if the necklace becomes caught on anything, increasing the potential for strangulation.
Image: Amber beaded jewelry, via Shutterstock