Are Teething Necklaces Safe for Babies?
Teething jewelry—such as amber teething necklaces and bracelets—could cause choking and strangulation. Here's what parents need to know about these natural products.
Teething necklaces serve as an alternative treatment to ease teething pain in infants and toddlers. They're especially popular in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and, increasingly, the United States. But many experts and organizations—including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)— advise against using them, since the jewelry increases the risk of choking and strangulation. Here's what parents need to know.
How Do Baby Teething Necklaces Work?
Baltic amber teething necklaces—the most popular variety—are strung with amber beads, and they're secured with some type of clasp. Retailers claim that when warmed by the baby's body temperature, the amber releases a substance (succinic acid) that's absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. Succinic acid supposedly eases the pain and inflammation associated with teething. However, there is no evidence to back up these claims.
Some manufacturers also make wood, marble, or silicone teething necklaces and bracelets. When babies chew on these materials, the counter pressure is said to provide relief for sore gums.
The Dangers of Teething Necklaces
Baby teething necklaces are safety hazards, particularly if children are left unattended while wearing them. "The risk is two-fold—strangulation and choking," said Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Kansas City, Missouri, who has blogged about the dangers of these products. "And that's not only for these teething necklaces. In general practice, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn't recommend that infants wear any jewelry."
The FDA recently released a statement advising parents not to use teething jewelry after a napping 18-month old strangled to death from an amber teething necklace. "Choking can happen if the jewelry breaks and a small bead enters the child's throat or airway. Strangulation can occur if a necklace is wrapped too tightly around the child's neck or if the necklace catches an object such as a crib," according to the FDA. "Other concerns include injury to the mouth or infection if a piece of the jewelry irritates or pierces the child's gums." What's more, teething necklaces claim to release succinic acid into the bloodstream, but "the FDA has not evaluated these claims for safety or effectiveness," according to the organization.
Vendors of Baltic amber teething 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.
Another cause of concern regarding teething necklaces: They can harbor bacteria. Indeed, in a study of amber necklaces from 27 kids, researchers in France found that they all contained bacteria, including coagulase-negative staphylococci (bacteria that lives on skin) and methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus (bacteria linked to skin infection).
What About Teething Necklaces for Mom and Dad?
Consumers can also buy teething necklaces for mom and dad; babies can chew on these while being held by their parents. These products often have a break-away clasp, and they're generally considered safer than teething necklaces worn by the infant. Keep in mind, though, that your little one could still gnaw off a bead and choke on it. Also, some parents might take the necklace off and give it to their child, which also increases the risk of strangulation and choking. Parental supervision doesn't guarantee your baby's safety.
Keeping Children Safe: Alternatives to Teething Necklaces
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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. Avoiding teething necklaces can help save lives.
If you decide to use them anyway, always supervise your child when they're wearing the teething necklace. Consider putting it around their wrist or ankle instead of their neck, advises the AAP, and remove it whenever your child is sleeping.
As a better solution, try one of these other teething remedies instead:
- Gently massage to your baby's gums with a clean finger; the counter pressure feels soothing on sore gums.
- Let your child suck on cold food (such as slushy applesauce and frozen fruit) or chilled items (like a wet washcloth that was placed in the freezer for 30-60 minutes). Cold creates a natural numbing sensation.
- Give your child a teething ring to alleviate gum pain. Replace it once you notice signs of wear and tear, since puncture marks from your baby's teeth could cause the substances inside to leak out.
- Ask your doctor about using an over-the-counter pain medication, such as infant acetaminophen (Tylenol) or infant ibuprofen (Motrin).