New research, conducted at New York University, has uncovered that our teeth can actually serve as pretty accurate documentation about significant events in our lives. From birth and diet to imprisonment and disease, our teeth serve as a sort of “living diary” of life events.
“A tooth is not a static and dead portion of the skeleton. It continuously adjusts and responds to physiological processes,” Paola Cerrito, a doctoral candidate at NYU’s Department of Anthropology and College of Dentistry, said in a statement. “Just like tree rings, we can look at ‘tooth rings’: continuously growing layers of tissue on the dental root surface. 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 distinct permanent mark.”
Cerrito and fellow researchers analyzed 47 teeth from 15 individuals, focusing on the calcified dental tissue that covers the tooth’s root, known as the cementum, IFLScience.com reported. By closely examining the structure of the cementum, they were able to identify things like whether or not a female participant had given birth or been through menopause. “ther stressful events such as systemic illnesses and incarceration are also detectable,” the study authors wrote.
Cerrito told CNN that this method could potentially be used by archeologists, “to piece together information on human remains from ancient civilizations” or to help forensic archaeologists “find out more details about unidentified human remains.
As with many new research methods, there are still a few bugs to iron out. Analyzing cementum can identify a traumatic experience, but the specific nature of the event isn’t also possible to identify. They also found teeth of the same individual can show different timings for events, “suggesting the dating based on cementum might be more complex than it first appears.”