amber as a teething aid?
June 4, 2011 12:04 AM   Subscribe

Recent 'old wives' wisdom being passed around on the new mum's circuit is that amber worn close to the skin reduces teething pain. Has anyone heard of any proof on this?
posted by IdleRepose to Grab Bag (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No. I can't imagine any effect, unless the child is chewing on it. And that's probably not a good idea.
posted by mrme at 12:11 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I believe it could relieve teething pain in the old wives, considering they would be more susceptible to the placebo effect, which is significant.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:29 AM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Probably the best case scenario would be that this would have a placebo effect (on the mother). I would worry it would be a choking hazard for the baby. Here is an article for you.
posted by gudrun at 12:30 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

new-ish mother, old-ish hedge witch here, and the answer is "no, sorry, that won't work."
posted by batmonkey at 12:35 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

No, but freezing a wet wash cloth and letting them have a chew might help.

(teething related tangent- I can't cite, but I remember hearing of a mum who was a dentist, (so interested in teeth) who took a photo of her baby's mouth *insert time interval here, I can't remember* and saw that teeth go up and down before they actually come in for real! No wonder it's painful.)

I googled some amber teething websites:

Stuff I agree with:
Baby should not chew on necklace
Baby should be supervised at all times when wearing necklace
Baby should take off necklace to sleep.

Stuff I think is weird
If the mum wears the necklace, it can help!
The body heat lets tiny bits of oil out of the amber, apparently.
since the tree resin that is now amber was antiseptic, this encourages healing.
It absorbs negative energies
can protect us from negative energies from mobile phones, TVs, microwaves and computers

(from and

Yeah. "traditional remedy" backed up with scientific research that doesn't match what the product is trying to do (yes, pine resin can be antisceptic! wearing a solid chunk won't help) and random ancient uses- (why is Egyptians using it as an embalmer any indication of the healing properties?)

While respectful of traditional remedies, this one seems pretty bogus.
posted by titanium_geek at 12:44 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Has anyone heard of any proof on this?

There is no conceivable mechanism by which this could work, so it would be pretty surprising if anyone had ever bothered to perform actual scientific controlled studies capable of producing proof.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:51 AM on June 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

Yeah, after looking around (purely out of curiosity because this seems like utter bunkum designed to sell necklaces) it would seem that the most science-y thing about this is that the amber used has succinic acid, which can have very mild effects on metabolism. However, that is when it is pulverized and distilled. Just putting hard amber on the skin is like shaking a bottle of aspirin and expecting it to work that way.

In short, nah. Heck no! But, the babies may find the beads a pleasing distraction from their erupting teeth, so there's that.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:53 AM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Has anyone heard of any proof on this?

There isn't any proof for it because there isn't a shred of truth to it.
posted by Justinian at 12:59 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

No matter what, do NOT freeze a bagel or any edible and give to your child to chew. Its a choking hazard and nobody realizes this until the hazard occurs. Invest in those impregnable rubber things that have non-toxic liquid inside.

Good luck. I know its a trying time.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:01 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is no such thing as teething pain. That it exists is the VERY ingrained "old wives tale" (a revolting turn of phrase, but there you go).

Teeth coming through don't hurt. Often rashes, fevers and diarrhoea are attributed to "teething" when the baby has actually caught a virus and is unwell. Babies put things in their  mouths, it's a developmental phase which lasts a lot shorter period of time than teeth coming through.

If you have a grizzly baby with symptoms, please do not ignore their illness and put it down to teething. They are unwell and need all the ministration that any sick person needs.

If my doesnt gel with EVERYTHING you hear from other parents/grandparents try looking for some scientific research in to teething. Then ask a toddler, who can speak, if their teeth hurt coming through. They will say no. Seriously, "teething" is the biggest load of hogwash parents ever get sold...and buy.
posted by taff at 1:07 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Teeth coming through don't hurt."

I remember my wisdom teeth coming in and those motherfuckers did indeed hurt. It wasn't just the pressure on my other teeth -- the spot where the tooth broke through the gums was also painful.

Regardless, the amber thing is superstitious horseshit.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:14 AM on June 4, 2011 [18 favorites]

I second precisely what Jacqueline said.
posted by Lebannen at 1:47 AM on June 4, 2011

I can remember teething hurting. Oh dear, taff
posted by dance at 1:52 AM on June 4, 2011

taff, not to be a dick but... cite, please? Because that is reading as just about as much bunkum as amber teething necklaces at the moment.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:58 AM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Ah Bri...I didn't mean to imply that I was citing research. Bad sentence formation there, sorry. I meant to communicate that if you try looking for research in to teething you won't find the desperate pain, fever, sloppy poo model that we get pushed on to us from...well, when we are babies.

I'm not sure what part you're thinking sounds like bunkum though so can't respond more coherently.
posted by taff at 3:26 AM on June 4, 2011

I did a quick google scholar look... which any one could do... so I'm not trying to claim any particular research skills... but there are a couple of papers that appear to agree with me. (Woo hoo, that's unusual!)

Just a small one... not especially brilliant for buttressing my point but shows that I'm not exactly a solo raging lunatic.

This is just an abstract... it brings sod all and nothing to support my argument... but I love it and shall probably quote it at playgroup regularly.
posted by taff at 4:07 AM on June 4, 2011

I've heard of amber teething necklaces, and I think they're weird and in some ways unsafe.

We had the best luck with teething by using a Munchkin feeder and putting frozen fruit inside and good old fashioned Ibuprofen.

Also, I agree that symptoms like fevers and a particular type of poop are not necessarily teething related, but to say that teething doesn't hurt is as old wives as amber necklaces to me. Toddler Zizzle never really had any other symptoms of teething other than crying his "I'm hurt!" cry and being generally miserable for days and wanting nothing more than to keep his fingers in his mouth as he wailed in misery.

Also, toddlers are not reliable reporters. Ask them to tell you a story about when they were big and they'll tell you how they destroyed houses.....they won't say they were never big.
posted by zizzle at 6:00 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's bollocks. I have two friends who are currently doing it with their kids, and I asked them how it worked. Both couldn't give me an answer, but said 'it's worth a try'. Forget the choking hazard, forget the waste of money ....
posted by Megami at 6:44 AM on June 4, 2011 an antique dealer, I always look to the documented history and current availability of an object when someone claims it's an "old European" blah blah or any kind of "ages old practice". For example, when things like the Belly Bandit came on the market not too long ago and talked about Eastern Practices and such, really a haramaki or sarashi wasn't always specifically for that purpose. (I'm trying not to derail here.) And Western hospitals and other businesses have offered post partum abdominal binders, though unglamorous, for ages. So, yes, there is such a thing, but it's stretching a bit and giving a boring item a glamorous history because ...why?

Which brings me to the other part of being an antique dealer - sales. Some salespeople/businesses will claim anything to make money. None of the companies selling these beads seem to offer specific evidence of which European culture, or the origins beyond that it's maybe, "Baltic" or "Lithuanian" amber or what have you. As a jewellery dealer, I knew to be careful of things like copal or to look for amber that's been reconstituted or treated in various ways, and I know that amber isn't currently trendy or rare or expensive. It's hard to sell, because it's a specific taste. Which is how it can be so affordable, and these necklaces are not just hunks of raw amber that were found lying around and lightly polished so they're all "natural" and stuff - which makes me call healing properties into question, and makes me wonder why it took them so long to realize that tired new moms would be the perfect market to target for something that's not very salable on the secondary market, let alone modern retail.

But, let's use recent enough history:

in Victorian times, rattles with teethers of ivory, mother of pearl, coral or bone and even amber were often given to children for amusement and for teething purposes. But, for, you know, primarily for holding or chewing - and superstitious beliefs where held (I love the term sympathetic magic used there) that the materials used also conferred healing powers or warded off evil spirits or symbolized things too. Beaded necklaces were often wishes for a long life, with each bead representing a year, with seed pearls for innocence and coral for blood/warding off evil spirits.

Whether or not Baltic amber "contains Succinic Acid which is a natural component of plant tissues. It is known to have a positive effect on our cellular metabolism", which to me, sounds a bit like New Age Hooey - people in those days wouldn't have known stuff like that. They'd just have some weird belief that came from amber being light, or warm, or static-conducting.

Or, let's apply another argument: In my years of experience of handling antique amber necklaces, what seems to be the case, is that nearly none of them were made in children's sizes that have lingered to this day to be very present on the market (though seed pearl and coral necklaces were very popular, and still abound, as they were hoped to bestow a long life on the child, as with those very long Christening gowns). To my knowledge, when used for "healing", they were worn for other purposes, like throat healing - but more often the amber was given as a tincture or ointment - not worn. And jewellery in history was for more privileged people, even amber. So, when I go searching through antique jewellery dealers' stock looking for antique amber necklaces for children, and there are very precious few, it tells me that this wasn't common, widely-held or done frequently enough to have merit as even an old wives tale.

Here's what seems to be a good argument.
posted by peagood at 7:42 AM on June 4, 2011 [11 favorites]

The usual fantasy I see attached to this "amber teething necklace" scam is 'the amber has succinic acid and that helps!' Refer parents to the MSDS for succinic acid when you encounter such beliefs. "Corrosive, causes burns. Harmful by inhalation, ingestion and through skin absorption. Wash after handling. Eye contact may cause serious damage." So, thank goodness these little beads are not actually releasing succinic acid.

One should also warn against teething "tablets," which are a homeopathy swindle. They are usually in a lactose (eg, sugar) base, and they "work" because parents like candy -- small amounts of sugar water are effective at stopping crying.

When I first saw the stuff taff links to I thought it might have some small value, as parents do over-estimate the importance; on Yahoo! Answers one sees girls asking about their baby who has "been teething for three months now" &c. But when confronted with millions of parents across many eras and cultures saying the same thing, and a small study? It is probably prudent to suspect some methodological errors in the study. File under "more research needed," I think.
posted by kmennie at 7:43 AM on June 4, 2011

Just because the MSDS for the purified compound warns of a particular danger, that doesn't necessarily extrapolate to trace amounts. Technically anything with a pH less than 7 containing sodium chloride contains hydrochloric acid, but the MSDS for muriatic acid does not apply to Gatorade. (That doesn't make succinic acid argument mean anything - Peagood's last link does a pretty solid job of summing up why.)

Also, for the price, the quality control on amber is abysmal. You'd think they were making this crap by parking a mountain range on a puddle of tree sap rather than using a well controlled industrial process! Gerber makes a range of products for this purpose out of purer plastics with far fewer dead bugs in them!

Taff, I think there's a lot of difference between teeth coming in are a nagging and persistent pain and teeth coming in should be treated as an illness with potentially fatal effects.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2011

The old wives tale my mom fell for was dipping the pacifier in whiskey. Probably looked like it worked too, but definitely not a good idea.
posted by meepmeow at 9:39 AM on June 4, 2011

Ok, I am with just about everyone else on this thread: eh, not so much. But... I am sufficiently crunchy that I am willing to drop $20 on a cute necklace that *might* help with teething pain. My 16 month old kid has worn his consistently for the past year, and until recently, I could not have told you whether or not it works (but it certainly isn't hurting!). The kid doesn't seem to notice if it is on or off, and doesn't bother with it when it is on. But, just recently (as in within the last month or so), when he is super cranky (experiencing teething pain?) he wants that necklace on - to the extent that he will find it and bring it to us to put on, and isn't happy until it is found (other distractions don't work). It really seems to alleviate. Other times (like right now), he is just fine without it. This is purely anecdotal, and I am sure that someone has a non-woo-woo explanation for this, but like I said before, it doesn't hurt anything for him to wear it, and if he thinks it works, who am I to argue?
posted by LyndsayMW at 12:42 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just to be clear, I don't actually think that these polished beads release any kind of acid or anything else into my kid's skin, nor does he wear them at night or any other time he isnt being supervised closely (which is never).
posted by LyndsayMW at 12:49 PM on June 4, 2011

There is no such thing as teething pain.
This is bunk, and I mean it in the politest possible way.

I have three children, one of whom was an early speaker who very clearly explained to us in no uncertain terms that her teeth were hurting before she was two.

Amber worn close to the skin will not reduce teething pain. It's hooey.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:56 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

The thing is, can you think of any possible mechanism by which this could work? Just placing a stone close to your skin could relieve pain anywhere in your body?

I know science can be stranger than fiction, so I agree that it was worth checking, but this one is as unbelievable as it sounds.
posted by tel3path at 1:58 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

LyndsayMW, I think the "non-woo-woo" explanation for what you're describing (at least, the part where you describes your child wants the necklace on) is: I've seen with my kids that they can get very attached to certain objects (often simply because they're there, and because kids are creatures of habit). And that attachment will be visible especially when they're not feeling great, for whatever reason. At other times, they simply don't care as much, or they're distracted enough to simply forget about it. If I'm right, he will also want to necklace if he's got another illness or reason not to feel great. Also, don't underestimate the way kids pick up on the placebo effect that something has on their parents...
posted by Ms. Next at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

There is no such thing as teething pain. That it exists is the VERY ingrained "old wives tale" (a revolting turn of phrase, but there you go).

This is quite possibly the most stupid thing I have read on metafilter.

Have you ever seen a baby's cheeks during this mythical teething period?
The gobs of heavy saliva?
The diminished appetite?

Holy hell nobody listen to that.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:43 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Halcyon, those can things have other etiologies. Like viruses. And the drooling happens when their saliva glands start working. Do two year olds drool? Do adults with wisdom teeth drool?

My point is that if your child is unwell, it is potentially dangerous to put it down to "teething". Go have a squizz and see if you can find reputable citations of research in to teething.
posted by taff at 3:19 PM on June 4, 2011

Oh wow. It took me (subtract time from last post to this post) minutes to find this stuff from reputable sources:

From the NHS website.

From WebMD.

From the Mayo Clinic.

Quick find on PubMed I can't fully read...but the abstract is there.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:38 PM on June 4, 2011

This is purely anecdotal, and I am sure that someone has a non-woo-woo explanation for this, but like I said before, it doesn't hurt anything for him to wear it, and if he thinks it works, who am I to argue?

I'm with you there LindsayMW. If a small distraction helps your kid during a painful time...make sure you have 2 just in case you lose one.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:41 PM on June 4, 2011

[folks, keep it civil or go elsewhere please, thank you]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:42 PM on June 4, 2011

[we are at the point where the "is teething pain real" derail needs to go to email or MetaTalk form this point forward. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:18 PM on June 4, 2011

It's bullshit, but they look very cute and it's something to do.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:28 AM on June 5, 2011

But, just recently (as in within the last month or so), when he is super cranky (experiencing teething pain?) he wants that necklace on

When I was sick as a small child I was permitted to drink ginger ale and eat Alphagetti, and sometimes my father would stop at the corner store on his way home from work and buy me a "Peanuts" paperback. I am now in my thirties and when I get a really bad cold I still resort to ginger ale, Alphagetti, and "Peanuts." I mean, I try to always have ginger ale and Alphagetti on hand, even though I don't regularly consume those things, in case I get sick. I am aware that my ginger ale has no ginger and the other things don't have therapeutic value, but.

This's pretty common. It is a sound argument for familiar comfort items, but I don't think it's a good one for toddler necklaces; too much strangulation hazard, or choking hazard if it's built to fall apart.
posted by kmennie at 5:16 PM on June 5, 2011

I don't know if you are still reading this or not, but if you are looking for a teething remedy, clove oil is the way to go for teething pain relief. It works!

Word of caution, for babies it is best diluted (or get Baby Orajel Naturals, has clove oil in it and is benzocaine free, etc.).
posted by misha at 3:08 PM on June 8, 2011

Clove oil is actually not such a good idea for babies. It kills the nerve cells, which may be ok for 50 year old gums, but so good for baby gums. It can also cause burns. Personally, I would steer clear of it and any product that contains it (so says the lady that puts the weird choking hazard necklace on her kid).
posted by LyndsayMW at 10:51 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone - this has been a great discussion. I am going to close it down now.
posted by IdleRepose at 5:14 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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