Researchers are studying baby teeth in hopes of learning about early childhood stress.
Adorable gap-toothed smiles, precious to parents and a source of inspiration for Boston scholar Erin Dunn.
“I’m a 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 traces of early life stress.
“So, similar to how trees evolve, in terms of leaving behind these additional records of their growth, our teeth do the same thing,” Dunn said.
Dunn and her team take donated teeth and cut them open so they can look at them under a microscope.
These images are enlarged to make it easier to see the lines and changes in width and color.
“We’re trying to see if we can see evidence, in fact, recorded in baby teeth in terms of these gradual signs of growth that could be indicators of early life experiences,” Dunn said.
One of the team’s studies is called Strong. They recruited moms who were pregnant during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to see if the moms’ stress from the blast showed up in the children’s teeth.
The goal is to eventually use teeth as a screening tool to determine whether children may benefit from mental health support.
“If we can better identify children early on who have experienced these early life stressors, we can more quickly connect them to interventions,” Dunn said.
Dunn and her team are recruiting people for several other primary teeth and mental health studies.
They send participants kits with instructions on how to package the teeth and submit them.
There is more information about them site.