It is not known why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, issued its formal safety communication last week but it appears that the agency is finally–maybe–taking seriously the dangers posed by amber “teething” necklaces and similar “pain relief” jewelry.
Amber teething necklaces are widely available on websites like Amazon.com and are often hawked with outrageous health claims but are only one type of “pain relieving” jewelry marketed to parents and caretakers. Wood, silicone and even stone bracelets and necklaces are also sold for kids with autism or ADHD.
How Dangerous Are Amber Teething Necklaces?
The FDA will not say exactly how many reports it has received of children being injured by amber teething necklaces (or similar jewelry) but characterizes it as “a small number”. We do know that an American child died as recently as 2016 after strangling in his crib.
Most reports, however, seem to involve babies and toddlers choking on beads that have broken free and been swallowed. (When I first wrote about the potential dangers of amber kids’ jewelry more than a decade ago, mothers confided stories of their children choking on loose beads, cutting off circulation to their hands and cutting their gums on broken shards. These stories were not, as far as I knew, ever reported to health professionals.)
Do These Necklaces Work At All?
Teething items are often given to children with certain special needs. A parent or caregiver could, for example, encourage a child who bites himself to chew on a rubber teether instead.
And, of course, we’ve all seen teething babies using a teething ring to relieve their mouth pain.
In that respect, teething jewelry can certainly work. But when it comes to safety, amber teething items are far more controversial. For example, no manufacturer or seller of amber beads has ever shown that a baby’s body temperature is sufficient to release the succinic acid that is supposedly trapped in the amber or that the succinic acid would be sufficient to relieve pain, reduce inflammation or strengthen a child’s immune system.
Last week’s formal statement from FDA was to parents and caregivers and not, as I would have liked to see, a direct warning to sellers of teething jewelry. But it is, I hope a very small step in the right direction.