October 22, 2020

Can Teeth Be Used to Screen Kids for Mental Health?

Some parents save their kids baby teeth for the tooth fairy.

But what if those same teeth could help in detecting trauma? A recent study out of Mass General reveals how crucial moments in a child's history are often recorded in their teeth.

And this is really coming down to these microscopic markings within children's teeth.

Much like you'll think of those markings on a tree as they age.

Maybe this is a tool for detecting trauma.

And obviously this is all new.

We're learning a lot about it.

Lot of things obviously cause stress in childhood.

I am fascinated by this.

I think that we have all of these potential new tools, investigative tools.

I right now don't know what to make of this.

So what we should do now is have a dental expert- Who knows the embryos of the teeth.

reconstructive and cosmetic dentist Dr.

Joe Willardsen joins us now to weigh in on this study.

Have teeth ever been used in this way in the past? Yeah, so here's the thing, we've always known that certain drugs, different diseases like syphilis, bacteria.

Hutchinson's Hutchinson, that's right.

Yeah, that's right.

Hutchinson's incisors, viruses.

Those have always been clues into what's going on with the development of the teeth, both prenatal and postnatal in that young age.

So the thing that's interesting about this is we've never really looked at mental stress.

This is what makes this study very interesting.

And who knows where it's gonna go from here, you know? Well, and let's talk about that.

What would cause these quote unquote stress cracks? What is it, do we understand why if a child goes through a lot of emotional trauma or stress, why these stress cracks develop? Right.

I get that question a lot from different patients concerned parents.

They'll see fractures in the enamel all the time.

A patient will go look in their rear view mirror with the sunlight on it and see these fractures and they get alarmed.

That's normal, what's not normal is when you start having large pieces of teeth fall off or multiple cracks due to parafunctional habits, which can be related to stress.

Dr Willardsen , do you think this is going to be a practical screening tool? So I think you have to wait for the kid's tooth to fall out.

However many years later, then you analyze it- Under the microscope.

And then you say okay, maybe this child should be screened for mental health issues.

Like I'm just trying to think about logistically and practically how this will play out.

Well, before the tooth fairy comes, you've got to look at it under the microscope.

Take it to the dentist, have it checked.

You have a really good point.

How practical is this going to be because there's not really any general dentist that's going to be able to dissect the tooth, recognize these rings, and do something about it.

I think it would be very difficult for a dentist to take these signs at this point and make any sort of label.

It reminds me of a lot of new developments in medicine.

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you always should.

And another example even be genetic testing, a lot of people, they want to have all of their genes tested, find out as much as possible.

I think back to when we were first uncovering these cheaper genetic tests and I said, well, I don't necessarily want to know if I'm at a higher risk of having a heart attack.

I'm just gonna live my life in a such a way that I will decrease my risk for heart attack with kids.

I mean, we would like to believe that if they're exposed to emotional stressors, we're working on those stressors while they're happening rather than once their teeth come out five years later.

It's like, oh my gosh, boy, you've been through a lot.

So that the practicality of this, it seems more scientifically interesting than maybe pragmatic in a clinical setting.

Yeah, I think you're right.

I think one of the really interesting things is the power that stress has on the physical body.

The tooth is the hardest substance in the body.

We can only imagine what stress is doing to other organs and soft tissues.

You can tell.

I mean, when you look at adults, you get a pretty good read of a lot of things that are going on with them medically and just habits.

You know, what they eat, what they drink.

Do they grind their teeth is the grinding related to stress? I mean, I think the teeth, Here's one thing I will say, I'm going to give a shout out to the dentistry world.

The one thing that we do know is that if you get the teeth clean, you keep good oral health.

That is great for your overall health, and who knows? There are all these weird connections out there with the gut microbiome and mental health, and so we may not know what to do with these stress lines, but we do know that a good oral hygiene is key to good overall health.

Dr Joe, thanks so much.

Thank you.

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