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                                             No one is certain what causes       Harvard Medical School.
                                     6       the NNL to form, says Dunn,         Mountain is now a postdoctoral
                                             but it’s possible that a mother     research fellow at Maine Medical
        teeth are forming. Thicker stress    experiencing anxiety or depression   Center Research Institute. Zhu
        lines are thought to indicate more   may produce more cortisol, the      is now a doctoral student at the
        stressful life conditions.           “stress hormone,” which interferes   Harvard T.H. Chan School of
                                             with the cells that create enamel.   Public Health.
        Dunn developed a hypothesis          Systemic inflammation is another
        that the width of one variety in     candidate, says Dunn, who hopes     Story Source:
        particular, called the neonatal      to study how the NNL forms. And     Materials provided by University of
        line (NNL), might serve as an        if the findings of this research can   Bristol. Note: Content may be edited
        indicator of whether an infant’s     be replicated in a larger study, she   for style and length.
        mother experienced high levels       believes that the NNL and other
        of psychological stress during       tooth growth marks could be used    Journal Reference:
        pregnancy (when teeth are already    in the future to identify children who   1. Rebecca V. Mountain, Yiwen
        forming) and in the early period     have been exposed to early life     Zhu, Olivia R. Pickett, Alexandre
        following birth.                     adversity. “Then we can connect     A. Lussier, Jill M. Goldstein,
                                             those kids to interventions,” says   Joshua L. Roffman, Felicitas B.
        To test this hypothesis, Dunn        Dunn, “so we can prevent the onset   Bidlack, Erin C. Dunn. Association
        and two co-lead authors --           of mental health disorders, and do   of Maternal Stress and Social
        postdoctoral research fellow         that as early on in the lifespan as   Support During Pregnancy With
        Rebecca V. Mountain, PhD, and        we possibly can.”                   Growth Marks in Children’s
        data analyst Yiwen Zhu, MS, who                                          Primary Tooth Enamel. JAMA
        were both in the Psychiatric and     Dunn is also an associate           Network Open, 2021; 4 (11):
        Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit     professor of Psychiatry at          e2129129 DOI:
        at the time of the study -- led a team
        that analysed the teeth. The width
        of the NNL was measured using
        microscopes. Mothers completed
        questionnaires during and shortly
        after pregnancy that asked about
        four factors that are known to affect
        child development: stressful events
        in the prenatal period, maternal
        history of psychological problems,
        neighbourhood quality (whether
        the poverty level was high or it was
        unsafe, for instance), and level of
        social support.

        Several clear patterns emerged.
        Children whose mothers had
        lifetime histories of severe
        depression or other psychiatric
        problems, as well as mothers who
        experienced depression or anxiety
        at 32 weeks of pregnancy, were
        more likely than other kids to have
        thicker NNLs. Meanwhile, children
        of mothers who received significant
        social support shortly after
        pregnancy tended to have thinner
        NNLs. These trends remained
        intact after the researchers
        controlled for other factors that
        are known to influence NNL width,
        including iron supplementation
        during pregnancy, gestational age
        (the time between conception and
        birth) and maternal obesity.

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