Medical Technology

Baby teeth could help flag mental health risks

Growth lines on baby teeth that have fallen out could provide evidence of early life experiences that may affect mental health later as a new study shows.

What you need to know:

  • Research suggests that childhood trauma can be the cause of up to a third for all mental disorders. But, it’s difficult to identify children who are more prone to stress. A study suggests that babies’ teeth may be a way.

  • Erin C. Dunn, ScD. MPH was inspired by Anthropologists and began to study the baby teeth. Anthropologists study teeth in order to learn more about past peoples. Dental enamel can be affected by nutrition or physical stress. It can also be affected by diseases. This can result in growth lines that resemble the rings on a tree.

  • Dunn and a group of researchers examined 70 baby teeth donated by children between 5 and 7. The larger width of the neonatal growth line (NNL) was a sign that an infant’s mother had experienced greater levels of stress during pregnancy.

  • The relationship between NNL thickness (and stress) is not fully understood it could be due to the production of cortisol or systemic inflammation.

  • Dunn believes that this as well as other growth lines could be used to identify children who have been exposed to early-life challenges and lead to improved prevention strategies.

This is a summary of the article, “Baby Teeth May One Day Help Identify Children at risk of developing mental disorders Later in Life,” published by the University of Bristol on November 10. The complete article is available on

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