Scientists studying whether baby teeth can show clues of early stresses

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:

Researchers are studying baby teeth in hopes of unlocking information about early childhood stress.

Adorable gap-toothed smiles, precious for parents and a source of inspiration for Boston scientist Erin Dunn.

“I am the science tooth fairy. I am a scientist who collects and studies teeth,” Dunn said.

Dunn and her team want to know if children’s teeth can leave clues of early life stress.

“So, similar to the way that trees develop, in terms of leaving behind these incremental records of their growth, our teeth do the same thing,” Dunn said.

Dunn and her team take donated teeth and slice them so they can look at them under a microscope.

These images are magnified so it’s easier to see lines and changes in width and color.

“We’re trying to see if we can see evidence essentially recorded in baby teeth in terms of these incremental growth marks that might be indicators of early life experiences,” Dunn said.

One of the team’s studies is called Strong. They’ve recruited moms who were pregnant during the time of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing to see if mom’s stress as a result of the bombing showed up in children’s teeth.

The goal is to eventually use teeth as a screening tool to determine if children could use mental health support.

“If we can be able to better identify kids early who’ve experienced these early life stressors, we can then more quickly connect them to interventions,” Dunn said.

Dunn and her team are recruiting for several other studies on baby teeth and mental health.

They send kits to participants with instructions on how to package the teeth and submit them.

There’s more information on their website.

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