teething baby girl

The Food and Drug Administration recently issued an official warning to parents about teething necklaces and other teething jewelry because of the risk of strangulation and choking. Provided

Just when you start to feel confident that you might actually get some shut-eye, you’re once again awakened by the nocturnal wails of an infant. Out of nowhere, your child’s sleep cycle is rudely interrupted by the swollen gums and irritating soreness of teething. 

Teething can start as early as three months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it can last a whopping three years. Its telltale symptoms include drooling, sucking, an elevated temperature, sleep disturbances and general crankiness. 

When my son Keegan first started teething, I remember feeling powerless to deal with his irreconcilable cries. I knew that this was nature taking its course, but those cries, oh those cries! He looked so uncomfortable. For a few months the symptoms would subside and then just when I thought we were in the clear, the next set of baby teeth would emerge with another round of sleepless nights. 

New parents like myself are given a host of both good and bad advice. There are pain relievers like baby Motrin or Tylenol, frozen teething rings, pacifiers, frozen bananas and the latest addition: amber teething necklaces.

Celebrities such as Rachel Zoe and Miranda Kerr have been seen publicly holding plump, gorgeous babies with a string of golden beads draped around their necks. When I first saw them I was taken aback. I had always been told that jewelry was off limits to infants. But then a few days later, I caught up with a mom friend whose baby wore a similar string of beads around his ankle. Another mom friend also swore by the beads. “I don’t know how, but they seem to work,” she said. 

Though the orange iridescent beads look adorable, advocates claim that they’re not just a fashion statement. They’re made of Baltic amber and they’re supposed to work by releasing a small amount of succinic acid, an apparent pain reliever, into a baby’s bloodstream. Enthusiasts swear that they reduce teething pain. 

The exotic beads recently have gained popularity among parents who are looking for a more “natural” approach. This, I can understand because I, too, was hesitant about giving my tiny baby pain relievers for what could amount to months at a time. 

Dr. Hipp

Dr. Cynthia L. Hipp is an associate professor of pediatric dentistry at the Medical University of South Carolina. Provided

But according to experts, these necklaces are not only ineffective, they’re dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration recently put out an official warning to parents about teething necklaces and other teething jewelry after getting reports of babies choking on the beads when they were broken off from the necklace and one toddler who was strangled to death after wearing the necklace during naptime. “The use of these products can lead to serious injuries including strangulation or choking,” the agency says. 

“While the necklaces are indeed drug-free and made with natural ingredients, there’s no medical evidence to suggest that the oil actually relieves pain,” says Dr. Cynthia L. Hipp, an associate professor of pediatric dentistry at the Medical University of South Carolina. “The FDA has not approved any teething jewelry products and has warned against using them.”

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that babies and toddlers shouldn’t wear any jewelry — whether it’s for teething or not — because of the risk of strangulation, one of the leading causes of death among kids less than a year old. However, says Dr. Hipp, if a parent chooses to use the necklaces or any teething jewelry, the child should always be supervised. Babies should never wear them during a nap or bedtime.

Other natural remedies also have taken some heat in recent months. The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics have warned parents against the use of homeopathic teething tablets. The agency specifically warned against the use of Hyland’s Teething Tablets, because they contain a deadly nightshade called belladonna, which has been used historically as a poison. Certainly not something you’d want your baby to ingest under the auspices of relieving teething pain. Separately, numbing agents sold over the counter that contain benzocaine and lidocaine should not be used on teething babies.

For parents looking for safe and proven tools in the fight against painful teething, Hipp recommends silicone and latex chewy toys, especially those with textured surfaces. For toddlers, consider a “slow-flow sippy cup with cool water to suck on and drink for comfort.” 

Those frozen bananas are also helpful, along with other cold items like partially frozen washcloths that can help relieve irritation. Make sure teething rings are not frozen solid because they can irritate your child’s soft tissue and make the problem even worse. 

And in a pinch, experts contend that the pain relievers acetaminophen or ibuprofen are considered safe and effective. In the end, they worked for me. On those nights when I knew we were in for a doozy, a little Motrin went a long way both for Keegan’s pain and my sanity. A year later, teething seems to be in our rear-view mirror, and, remarkably, we both lived to tell the tale.

Sara Novak is the editor of Lowcountry Parent.