Dentists can tell a lot about their patients just by looking at their teeth, as researchers have revealed stressful life events can leave marks in our mouth.

A study from New York University (NYU) that looked at if and how teeth can provide a “biological archive” of a person’s life was published in Science Daily earlier this week (March 25th).

The authors, doctoral candidate at NYU’s Department of Anthropology and College of Dentistry Paola Cerrita, professor Shara Bailey at the Department of Anthropology, and the university’s College of Dentistry’s associate research scientist Bin Hu and professor Timothy Bromage, looked at cementum, the dental tissue covering a tooth’s root.

They found this produces annual layers, much like a tree’s rings, over the years. It also investigated whether impactful events, such as menopause, incarceration, pregnancy and systemic illnesses, could affect the structure of these layers.

Ms Cerrito stated: “The cementum’s microstructure, visible only through microscopic examination, can reveal the underlying organization of the fibres and particles that make up the material of this part of the tooth.”

Together, they looked at 50 sets of teeth from people aged between 25 and 69 years old. Using imaging techniques that lit up these cementum bands, they were able to link these to different life stages, with this information gathered from the subjects’ next of kin.

Ms Cerrito stated: “[A tooth] continuously adjusts and responds to physiological processes.”

She concluded: “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.”

This information is a major development in the oral hygiene world and could help dentists tailor their treatment, depending on the life experiences of their patients.

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