Parents of young children, how much does a baby tooth cost when the “tooth fairy” visits these days, one dollar? Five dollars? Well, for a team of researchers, baby teeth are priceless. Scientists are studying tiny pieces of enamel and dentin in hopes of unlocking information about early childhood stress.
Adorable gap-toothed smiles – precious to parents and a source of inspiration for Massachusetts General Hospital scientist Erin Dunn.
Dunn and her team want to know if children’s teeth can leave clues about early life stress.
“Similar to how trees develop, in terms of leaving these records as they grow, our teeth do the same,” she explained.
Dunn and her team take donated teeth and slice them up so they can be viewed under a microscope. Images are enlarged, so it’s easier to see lines and changes in width and color.
“We’re trying to see if we can see evidence actually recorded in baby teeth in terms of these growth marks that might be indicative of early life experiences,” Dunn said.
One of the team’s studies is called STRONG (Stories Tath Rrecord op Nborn Grow). They recruited mothers who were pregnant at the time of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings to see if maternal stress as a result of the bombing showed up in their children’s teeth. The aim is to eventually use teeth as a screening tool to determine whether children could use mental health support.
“If we can better identify children early on who have experienced these early life stressors, then we can connect them to interventions more quickly,” Dunn said.
Dunn and her team are recruiting for several more studies on baby teeth and mental health. They send participants kits with instructions on how to package the teeth and submit them. There is more information visit www.teethforscience.com.
Contributors to this news report include Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, editor.
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