Like the rings of a tree, teeth contain growth lines that may reveal clues about childhood experiences.
The thickness of growth marks in primary teeth may help identify children at risk for depression and other mental health disorders later in life, according to a research done at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The results are expected to lead to the development of a much-needed tool for identifying children who have been exposed to early-life adversity, which is a risk factor for psychological problems, allowing them to be monitored and guided towards preventive treatments, if necessary.
Research suggests that childhood adversity is primarily responsible for up to one-third of all mental health disorders.“Teeth creates a permanent record of different kinds of life experiences,” says senior author Erin C. Dunn . Exposure to sources of physical stress, such as poor nutrition or disease, can affect the formation of dental enamel and result in pronounced growth lines within teeth, called stress lines, which are similar to the rings in a tree that mark its age. Just as the thickness of tree growth rings can vary based on the climate surrounding the tree as it forms, tooth growth lines can also vary based on the environment and experiences a child has in utero and shortly thereafter, the time when teeth are forming. Thicker stress lines are thought to indicate more stressful life conditions.
Dunn developed a hypothesis that the width of one variety in particular, called the neonatal line, might serve as an indicator of whether an infant’s mother experienced high levels of psychological stress during pregnancy (when teeth are already forming) and in the early period following birth.
The study is mainly aimed at preventing the onset of mental health disorders, and do that as early on in the lifespan as possible.