Childbirth, imprisonment, disease: Human teeth contain a record of life events

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Scientists have found that our teeth can provide a record of human life, much like the rings of a tree.The discovery that our teeth are an "archive of life" could allow us to better understand menopause, birth patterns and child-rearing among early humans, according to a new paper by a team of researchers from New York University."Our results make clear that the skeleton is not a static organ, but rather a dynamic one," study lead author Paola Cerrito, a doctoral candidate in NYU's Department of Anthropology and College of Dentistry, said in a press release.Cerrito told CNN that the team were pleasantly surprised by the implications of their research, which they had originally designed as a way of investigating the reproductive patterns of extinct human ancestors such as Homo erectus."We weren't expecting these results," she said. The so-called biological archive in our teeth shows the effect of reproduction, systemic illnesses and imprisonment on our bodies, say the study's authors, who focused their research on cementum, a kind of dental tissue that covers the roots of our teeth.From the moment a tooth emerges from the gum, cementum starts to form annual layers, similar to a tree's rings."The discovery that intimate details of a person's life are recorded in this little-studied tissue, promises to bring cementum straight into the center of many current debates concerning the evolution of human life history," said co-author Timothy Bromage, a professor of at NYU's College of Dentistry.For example, the paper shows that there will be permanent changes in the microstructure of cementum in someone who has suffered systemic illness, and this can be accurately dated.Cerrito told CNN that the method could be used in archeology, for example to piece together information on human remains from ancient civilizations, and forensic archeology, by helping investigators to find out more details about unidentified human remains, such as those found on the US-Mexico border.The team looked at almost 50 human teeth from people with known medical history and lifestyle data, using imaging techniques to reveal cementum bands.They then linked these bands to life stages, and discovered connections between life events and tooth formation."Just like tree rings, we can look at 'tooth rings': continuously growing layers of tissue on the dental root surface," Cerrito said in the press release. "These rings are a faithful archive of an individual's physiological experiences and stressors from pregnancies and illnesses to incarcerations and menopause that all leave a distinctive permanent mark." The full paper appears in the journal Scientific Reports.Next, Cerrito and the team are working on how to differentiate life events by studying changes in levels of specific minerals, such as zinc and copper.This provide an even more detailed picture of the life of a tooth.The researchers are also working with high-resolution CT scans to develop a non-destructive method of studying cementum.This would allow them to study samples from Neanderthals and other creatures that, for conservation reasons, can't be physically cut.

Other articles published by CNN

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Harry Styles has postponed the European leg of "Love On Tour" to 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic continues across the globe.The former One Direction star had been due to kick off the 26-date tour in Birmingham, England on April 15, with pitstops in ...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Handshakes will probably be out of style for a while. Perhaps we should consider the namaste gesture instead. Here's what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On With Your Day.(You can also get "5 Things You Need to Know...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday said it is expediting the use of a blood plasma treatment for patients seriously ill with the coronavirus, making it easier for doctors to try another tool to attack the illness.The FDA said in a news...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)It was meant to be the first Games to be held beyond Europe and North America, a spectacle to showcase to the world that Tokyo had overcome the earthquake that had devastated the city some years earlier. But the 1940 Olympics was the Games that...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)It's a scenario all too many of us are facing -- or will soon face. You or a loved one has a mild fever, body aches, the start of a nagging, dry cough. Food doesn't taste good nor smell as it once did. Maybe you...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)There's no easy time to get sober, but a global pandemic is tougher than most. Back when I was trying and failing to quit, I'd reach for any excuse to bail on my better self. A bad day. A text from my ex, or no text. One day, a snowstorm walloped...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)As the coronavirus situation intensifies, you might be wondering: how can I keep myself healthy? And will swallowing a pill protect me from getting sick?First, there's the not-so-great news. Despite claims you may have seen on the Internet, there's...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

New Delhi (CNN)As the global coronavirus pandemic worsens by the day, fear is swelling in India -- and frontline medical workers are bearing the brunt of public panic.India has reported 562 cases of the novel coronavirus so far, a relatively low number...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

Hong Kong (CNN)Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has warned local officials not to hide new coronavirus cases, after the country reported several days of no locally transmitted infections in a major turnaround in its fight against the deadly pandemic.Li, the...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)President Donald Trump says he's hopeful Americans will be able to return to work in less than three weeks -- an outlook in stark contrast with that of world health officials who say the US may become the coronavirus pandemic's new...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Minnesota Timberwolves player Karl-Anthony Towns took to Instagram to share his mother's fight with Covid-19 in hopes it would encourage others to follow precautions to stop its spread."This disease is real," he said. "This disease needs not to be...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Danielle and Kenny Scott are used to facing obstacles together.Danielle, who is 34, had a hysterectomy after being diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2013. Kenny was right by her side, despite the fact that they had only been dating three...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

(CNN)When Brandon Waltman went to visit his newborn baby girl in the neonatal intensive care unit of an Alabama hospital Monday night, he was told she had been placed in isolation.His daughter Emmarie Grace Waltman has been in the NICU of the University...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

Washington (CNN)White House and Senate leaders struck a major deal early Wednesday morning over a $2-trillion package to provide a jolt to an economy struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, capping days of marathon negotiations that produced one of the ...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ CNN

Saskya Vandoorne is a field producer for CNN based in the network's Paris bureau.Paris (CNN)"Be prepared to give birth alone," the midwife said placing two round plates on my bump. As I let her words sink in, my eyes welled up and I watched my baby's ...