Health Headlines: Working with “Tooth Fairies” to study children’s mental health

Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 7:34 AM EST
BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Parents of young children, how much is a baby tooth going for when the “tooth fairy” visits these days, one dollar? Five dollars? Well, for a team of researchers, baby teeth are priceless. These scientists are studying the little pieces of enamel and dentin with the hopes of unlocking information about early childhood stress.
General Hospital scientist, Erin Dunn, ScD and her team want to know if children’s teeth can leave clues of early life stress.

“Similar to the way that trees develop, in terms of leaving behind these incremental records of their growth, our teeth do the same thing,” she explains.

Dunn and her team take donated teeth and slice them so they can look at them under a microscope. The images are magnified, so it’s easier to see lines and changes in width and color.

Dunn says, “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.”

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 their 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 adds.

Erin 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.

Contributors to this news report include Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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