The above images are scans of a cross-section of baby teeth from myself, my husband, and one of our daughters. Yes, my parents saved my baby teeth and I married a man whose parents saved his as well! When my daughter Hannah lost her first tooth, I asked our families to find ours and I sent them all to the Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory to be analyzed.
A new study at the Children’s Environmental Health Center is looking at teeth to find out what we can learn from them. It turns out, teeth have age rings like a tree. In the above image, age increases from right to left. The right side shows the tooth at the youngest and the left is the age when the tooth fell out. Therefore, you can see not only what chemicals babies were exposed to, but when. This even includes chemicals they were exposed to in the womb.
The most interesting thing that emerged from studying my family’s baby teeth was the difference in our exposure to lead. Lead hurts a child’s intelligence, creativity, and ability to focus. The use of lead peaked in the 1970s and was found in paint, gasoline, and pipes. After evidence showed the harm it was doing, lead was removed from gasoline in 1976, from house paint in 1978, and from drinking water pipes and solder in 1986.
As you can see in the images above, my husband and I had a lot more lead showing up in our teeth than our daughter. Blue is the lowest level. Green, yellow, and orange/bright red are higher. (Disregard the dark red at the outline and right side of the teeth, this is caused by the testing method.) You can also see a reduction in lead exposure by age—which makes sense, since we grow out of putting things in our mouths!
What this shows us is that (at least in this example) the changes that were mandated in our environment by the United States government have had a clear effect on the makeup of our bodies. All three of us grew up in comfortable families in urban areas with health-conscious parents. The only main difference is that in the late seventies and early eighties, lead was prevalent, and now it is not. This clearly shows up in our teeth. In fact, my daughter’s lead exposure was 10 times lower than that of myself and my husband. This is great news!
Read more about the teeth study in this Washington Post article: What toxins have you been exposed to? Your baby teeth may hold the answer.
Read more about lead in the Time article: How to Finally End Lead Poisoning in America.