A new study has found that the growth lines in baby teeth may be used to identify children who are at risk for mental health conditions such as depression later in life. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital, published its findings in JAMA Network Open.
Researchers believe that their discovery could assist in the development of a tool that can identify children who have been exposed to adversity early in their lives. Early-life adversity is a risk factor for psychological issues. Erin C. Dunn, a social and psychiatric epidemiologist who studies the impact of childhood adversity, stated that exposure to sources of physical stress, including disease or poor nutrition, can affect enamel formation, which is what creates pronounced growth lines in teeth, known as stress lines.
Dunn, who was the senior author of the study, explained that these growth lines varied based on experiences and environment a child encountered before they were born and when their teeth were forming, noting that thicker stress lines indicated more stressful environments. She came up with a hypothesis that the width of the neonatal line could help indicate if the mother of an infant experienced a lot of psychological stress while they were pregnant as well as in the period after they gave birth.
To test this theory, the researchers conducted an analysis of primary teeth, mainly canines, collected from children aged five to seven, who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parent and Children in the United Kingdom. The researchers measured the width of the neonatal lines using microscopes. They also administered questionnaires to mothers while they were pregnant as well as shortly after they’d given birth, which asked about factors that affect child development, including level of social support, neighborhood quality, maternal history of psychological issues and stress events experienced in the prenatal period.
They discovered that children of mothers who experienced anxiety or depression when they were 32 weeks pregnant, as well as those whose mothers had a history of severe depression and other psychiatric issues, had higher chances of having thicker neonatal lines in comparison with other children. This is in addition to finding that children whose mothers received a lot of social support shortly after giving birth had thinner neonatal lines.
In their report, the researchers note that while they aren’t certain what causes neonatal lines to form, they hypothesize that more cortisol is produced when a mother experienced depression or anxiety. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone.
In the study’s conclusion, Dunn asserted that these findings have potential to also help hinder the onset of mental health conditions or commence treatment earlier. This might be particularly beneficial as new classes of formulations for mental health disorders are brought to market by various biotech companies such as Mydecine Innovations Group Inc. (NEO: MYCO) (OTC: MYCOF).
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