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Children’s baby teeth can help identify mental health disorders

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a study on how growth marks on baby teeth can help identify children at risk for depression or other long-term mental health problems.

This article, published in the JAMA Network Open magazine, could unleash a valuable tool to recognize children who were exposed to adversity at an early age, causing psychological problems.

Erin C. Dunn, a social and psychiatric epidemiologist and researcher at MGH’s Psychiatric Genetics and Neurodevelopment Unit, is considered the main author of the origin of this research, since she has been studying the effects of childhood adversity for years.

According to the specialist, it is important to focus on the time of these unfavorable episodes and discover if there are sensitive periods during child development and determine if the exposure is “Particularly harmful”.

On the other hand, Dunn recognized that she and other scientists do not have the necessary tools to quantify exposure to childish adversity how to enter into dialogue with the parents or guardians of minors about their painful experiences at an early age.

“Teeth create a permanent record of different kinds of life experiences”explained the social epidemiologist.

The problem is in the teeth

Tooth enamel malformation can be associated with physical stress, poor nutrition, or disease, resulting in pronounced growth lines within teeth – stress lines – similar to tree rings.

The growth lines of the teeth can vary, depending on the environment and experiences, such as the thickness of the growth rings of the trees according to the climate that surrounds them. According to the study, presenting thicker lines of tension denote living conditions with a higher stress index.

Erin C. Dunn concluded that the width of a neonatal line (NNL, for its acronym in English) would serve as an indicator that the mother of a baby developed psychological stress during pregnancy at very high levels and, furthermore, in the first weeks of birth.

The specialist along with two lead co-authors, postdoctoral researcher Rebecca V. Mountain and data analyst Yiwen Zhu, led a team that examined 70 teeth collected from 70 children registered in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).

Two clear patterns emerged during the study: “Children whose mothers had a history of severe depression or other lifelong psychiatric problems were more likely than other children to have thicker NNL” and “Children of mothers who received significant social support shortly after pregnancy tended to have thinner NNL”.

“No one is sure what causes the formation of NNL”, said Erin C. Dunn, who hopes to study how the NNL is formed.

“Then we can connect those children with interventions, so that we can prevent the onset of mental health disorders and do it as early in life as possible.”, ended.


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