The Massachusetts General Hospital researcher Erin Dunn is a Perez Mouse with a white coat and a strange idea in his head. “The scientific community has been trying for decades to identify people at risk of developing a mental health problem in the future, especially children. Imagine if teeth were the first step in unveiling the mystery,” explains the scientist, who is convinced that the mouths of the little ones hide evidence that would allow them to get ahead of these problems. But, according to his theory, collecting them requires speed; they are hidden in milk teeth. “What if all the information was in a resource that most parents keep in a drawer or throw away?” He imagines optimistic.
Fortunately for her, 37 parents in California did not do either. Instead, they donated a tooth of milk from their 6-year-old children to the scientists of a study designed to monitor their health for 7 years, known as the Peers and Wellness Study. During this period, the researchers evaluated the children’s behavior through questionnaires filled out by their parents and teachers. Dunn says that the work of his team has allowed to detect in these teeth parameters related to subsequent symptoms of emotional and behavioral problems such as aggressiveness, impulsivity, hostility and the habit of not paying attention or listening. According to the report, the tracks emerged after doing a high-resolution image analysis of the dental pieces,
which served to obtain data on the volume of the pulp – which is the soft tissue of the core of the teeth – and the dental enamel that covers them. “We saw that children who had a thinner enamel also tended to have more symptoms,” explains the scientist. The volume of the pulp was also related to the level of emotional and behavioral problems, says Dunn, as if he were about to open a window to the potentially ill childish mind. “Anthropologists, archaeologists and dentists focus their work on teeth continuously, but for researchers in the field of mental health this is very novel,” he adds.
The tracks are registered before the age of one year
The scientists focused on the small incisors because they are between the teeth that formed before. They begin to originate in pregnancy and usually complete their training during the first year of life. According to the scientist, these dental pieces record events that happened during those periods of time, although how they leave their trail on them is still a mystery. For Dunn, differences in enamel thickness could be related to aspects such as mother’s nutrition during pregnancy and the stress he suffered, or it could be a consequence of the way in which the baby experienced his environment … but he recognizes that it is soon to provide explanations. “We don’t know exactly what the teeth are recording and what is causing the enamel and pulp to be finer,” he admits.
In any case, what excites his curiosity is the enormous potential of the results of his research, which he announced this week at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, (AAAS). ), in Washington. “If there is evidence of risk of developing mental problems in children’s teeth, the opportunities for prevention would be extraordinary.” And, if you are not mistaken, such tests could be very solid.
According to his analysis, the relationship between the anatomy of baby teeth and mental health is as strong as that shown by other indicators that the scientific community routinely uses. “The magnitude of the correlation was equivalent, even higher in some cases, to the associations we saw with socioeconomic status, which is one of the highest risk factors for mental health symptoms,” says the researcher. Dunn’s finding could be another unsuspected utility of baby teeth, which some dentists recommend removing before they fall because they contain stem cells.