Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"I like your baby's Mardi Gras beads!" and everything else about Baltic amber jewelry

In honor of my pre-schooler's scheduled dental cleaning today, the time is ripe to blog about Baltic amber, the teething remedy that everyone and their favorite know-it-all great aunt is talking about these days.

Everywhere my daughter goes each spring, she gets complimented on her "Mardi Gras beads." When my son was younger--and teething--and wearing a necklace made of raw Baltic amber nuggets, he was described by many as either "tribal" or "surfer-boy."

Photo credit: Baltic Creations.
A lady at our church asked if we had visited a traiteur, a traditional Cajun healer, because she'd grown up with babies who had been given Baltic amber necklaces that had been prayed over, in traiteur or traiteuse tradition, decades ago when their parents were desperately seeking strong, effective teething remedies. She was shocked to learn that they are made from amber from the Baltic region, that amber has always been used to combat teething pain by many cultures worldwide, and that you can now order them online "from just anyone!"

We asked our Facebook fans what kinds of comments they receive about their children's Baltic amber jewelry in public, and y'all gave us some good ones!

"'Is that, like, voodoo or something?'" from Shayna M.

"'Oh, so he chews on it?'" from Lisa D.

"My son, whom I dress like a boy, oftentimes gets confused for a girl with his necklace on. I've also heard, 'Oh, so he chews on it?' more times than I can count!" from Leslie M.

"EVERYONE comments on her 'pretty necklace.' They all think she's just a fashionista (which is laughable since I barely remember to brush her hair or put on shoes that match). So far only a handful of people have actually known what it was and asked if we liked it. Around Mardi Gras, people even asked if they were her Mardi Gras beads!!" from Elizabeth C. (I guess you know you're from Louisiana when....)

"People always seem intrigued, but I frequently sense the skeptical undertones. A few have tried them and now they swear by them! I freely admit to my friends/family that I thought it sounded hokey, too - but I'm eating crow on that one and have been for two years. They are a lifesaver!" from Danielle P.

Speaking of skepticism, most parents who employ amber jewelry for their children and/or themselves know about the claims surrounding its analgesic properties. Amber, hardened pine resin, naturally contains succinic acid, or succinite. Amber from the Baltic region contains the highest concentrations of succinite, which is an acid also produced within the human body that helps the body to heal from any inflammation and tolerate the pain associated with it. Amber experts claim that when Baltic amber is worn against the body, it is heated, and that succinite is released into the bloodstream through the skin's pores.
My daughter and her "Mardi Gras beads."
Honestly, I understand the skepticism. It all just sounds a little oversimplified to me, and I guess that's why I didn't jump on the bandwagon as soon as I heard about it as a teething remedy. But you know what? Myself and the overwhelming majority of skeptics have found that, by golly, there's a reason this remedy has been used to treat pain for millennia. However it works, and whether it's as simple as it sounds or the result of a more complex process (or, heck, whether the placebo effect really is at play), it works. Ask anybody (or any baby!) who's ever worn it for a while and then taken it off.

Speaking of how it works, remember that hard water build-up can decrease the efficacy of amber beads, so it is important to take it off during bath times or times of extended water activity. Clean your amber jewelry every now and then with a mild soap and warm water.  And remember to purchase authentic Baltic amber* from a reputable retailer, made with safety in mind.

*Unfortunately, inauthentic Baltic amber jewelry is commonly sold, usually "wholesale," by anonymous "manufacturers" on large retail Web sites such as eBay and Amazon. Authentic amber (1) may smell a little like pine but taste like nothing after it's been cleaned with a mild soap and warm water, (2) will burn away, rather than melt, if tested with flame, and (3) is buoyant in salt water. It is also not harmed by acetone, alcohol, or other solvents, while plastic or even copal (immature amber) is.