New warning about popular teething necklaces after child death

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Parents are being warned about the dangers of popular teething necklaces and bracelets after reports their use has been linked to death and serious injuries to infants and children.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), issued the renewed warning on Thursday, noting that "the safety and effectiveness of teething jewellery to treat teething pain and/or provide sensory stimulation have not been established". As well as soothing teething pain in infants, the FDA adds that the jewellery is also used to provide sensory stimulation to persons with special needs, such as autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and is typically made of materials such as amber, wood, marble, or silicone. 

"The risks of using teething jewellery include choking, strangulation, injury to the mouth, and infection," the FDA says. "Choking may occur if the jewellery breaks and small beads or the whole piece of jewellery enter the child's throat or airway."

The warnings come after the FDA was notified about the death of an 18-month-old child who was strangled to death by his amber teething necklace during a nap. "Strangulation can happen if a necklace is wrapped too tightly around the child's neck or if the necklace catches on an object such as a crib," the FDA continues.

The organisation also received a report of a seven-month-old child who choked on the beads of a wooden teething bracelet, while being supervised by his parents.

As such, the FDA recommends the following:

  • Do not use necklaces, bracelets, or any other jewellery marketed for relieving teething pain. 
  • Be aware that the use of jewellery marketed for relieving teething pain or provide sensory stimulation to people with special needs can lead to serious injuries including strangulation or choking.
  • Talk to your doctor about alternative ways you can reduce teething pain such as: gently rubbing or massaging the gums with a clean finger, giving the teething child a teething ring made of firm rubber.
  • Make sure the teething ring is not frozen. If the object is too hard, it can hurt the child's gums. Parents and caregivers should supervise the child during use.
  • Avoid teething creams and benzocaine gels, sprays, ointments, solutions, and lozenges for mouth and gum pain in infants and children younger than 2 years. 

It's advice echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, who updated their own guidelines following the FDA warning. "The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend that infants wear any jewellery," they note. "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."

Here in Australia, Red Nose and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC) have both issued prior warnings about the jewellery, the most recent in 2015.

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The ACCC tested various products with results indicating that some teething necklaces would fail the mandatory requirements for teethers. "Teething necklaces are usually colourful and playful in design, and may be confused with toys," they add. "Marketing of a necklace as in any way suitable for a child to play with could also lead to the foreseeable misuse of the product, which may result in choking or strangulation. This harm could occur despite labelling advice attached to a teething necklace warning of associated risks."

And Red Nose's stance is clear.

"Red Nose does not recommend placing anything around the neck of a sleeping baby as this could tighten during sleep and make breathing difficult and may even strangle baby. Furthermore, strings of beads could break and individual beads could end up in a baby's mouth, presenting a choking hazard."

While Amber is touted for its "healing properties," there is no scientific evidence that suggests they work to soothe teething pain. One study published in the journal Archives de Pédiatrie concluded that the beads are a "quack remedy with a real risk of strangulation or aspiration of small beads."

And University of Auckland chemistry Professor Allan Blackman who assessed the necklaces, noted: "amber does contain succinic acid but … you would have to heat it to at least 200C to get it out of the amber and into your baby's blood stream which is not going to happen when baby's temperature is 36.9C.

"In layman's terms it's extraordinarily unlikely, it's snake oil".