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Your Life’s Story Is Captured By Your Teeth

Apr 24, 2020 · Filed under Education

New research finds that your teeth can serve as an archive of your life’s biggest moments.

In a recent study in Scientific Reports, scientists initially set out to learn more about our extinct human ancestors. While taking a look at these ancient dental records, they discovered distinct layers of hardened tissue, similar to bone, covering the roots of teeth. This structure is called cementum.

As you age, new layers of cementum form each year.

“I had an ‘ah-ha moment’ when looking at the thin sections [of the cementum] under the microscope and thinking that I could try to match what I saw with data regarding the specific life events of individuals,” lead author Paola Cerrito, a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Department of Anthropology and College of Dentistry, said in a press release.

Think of these layers, or bands, like rings on a tree. As you experience impactful or stressful events, like pregnancies, illnesses, menopause, even your birth, a growing band of cementum experiences microstructural changes. Just as storms, lightning strikes, or healthy seasons show in the rings of a tree, your story is chronicled!

To make this discovery, Cerrito’s team studied approximately 50 teeth from people whose families volunteered medical history, lifestyle, and major events. Then they compared the bands of cementum to those events and found connections between the collected data and tooth formation.

“Our results make clear that the skeleton is not a static organ, but rather a dynamic one,” Cerrito said. Now that they’ve made this connection, her team is working on how to differentiate life events by studying the mineral makeup, as well as using high-resolution CT scans to study cementum in a non-destructive way.

Your teeth are adapting and growing with you, and as you take care of yourself, it’s important to take care of your teeth, too! After all, they could tell your story one day.

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