Victorian baby teeth ‘could predict disease’

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VICTORIAN baby teeth could help predict future health of children today, experts in Yorkshire say.

Archaeologists from Bradford and Durham universities have examined teeth from children who died during the 1845-52 Irish famine.

Analysis from cemeteries at a workhouse in Ireland and another in London, holding the graves of some of those who fled the famine, revealed the biochemical composition of teeth forming in the womb and during a child’s early years gave an insight into the health of a baby’s mother but even showed major differences between those infants who died and those who survived beyond early childhood.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, are being tested in baby teeth from children born recently in Bradford and Sudan.

If experts uncover similar patterns in modern-day mothers and children, they hope this could lead to a simple test on baby teeth to predict potential health problems in adulthood.

Lead researcher Julia Beaumont, of Bradford’s School of Archaeological Sciences, said: “We know that stress and poor diet in mothers, both during pregnancy and after birth, can have an impact on a child’s development.

“In the past that could mean a child didn’t survive - now it’s more likely to mean a child has a greater risk of health issues in later life.

“While sometimes there are obvious signs of maternal stress in the baby at birth, such as a low birth weight, that isn’t always the case. So a simple test on teeth that are naturally shed by children as they grow could provide useful information about future health risks.”

Dr Beaumont is testing teeth from children through the Born in Bradford project, a long-term study of 13,500 children, born between 2007 and 2010, whose health is being tracked into adult life.