The team at the dental office of Gregory A. Williams, DMD recently learned of an interesting geological dentistry discovery! A University of Florida study led by geologist George D. Kamenov has shown that the amount of lead found in human teeth is a clue to learning where and when they lived.
There are four “kinds” of the element known as Lead; these variants are called isotopes. Isotopes are atoms of the same element that differ in their number of neutrons but are in all other ways identical (in another example of elemental isotopes, both diamonds and graphite are different isotopes of the element Carbon).
The study, which will be published in this month’s Science of the Total Environment, notes that the amount of certain lead isotopes present in rock or soil varies by region and can be quite different in different geographical areas. Mining or other upheaval releases lead into the local environment and (sadly) accumulates in the growing bodies of children in that area. This lead then becomes a part of the children’s tooth enamel as it develops over the course of childhood.
In fact, the exact lead-containing teeth in particular can reveal information based on their isotope: first molar enamel is finished forming by age 3, so it provides information about birth and toddler years. Incisor and canine enamel starts later and finishes around age 5, so it gives insight into early childhood. The third molar enamel does not start forming until age 8, so it indicates late childhood residences.
… for dental detectives
The study’s discovery could prove useful helping police solve cold cases. According to Kamenov, testing the isotopes of lead found in the teeth of an unidentified body will allow an investigation to focus on a specific geographic area rather than wasting resources searching in the wrong places.
Additionally, lead analysis can help to lead researchers to periods of history:
Due to mining and the use of leaded gasoline, the study reports a clear distinction between lead exposure between modern and historical humans. Kamelov hopes this information will be useful in tracking human migration patterns, noting that due to lead levels archaeologists are able to identify early European bodies in the New World to those bodies native to it.
You are more than what you eat
The study concludes that we are literally composed of the environment around us– for good or bad. And, in this case, this fact can be utilized for further research and forensics.
However, back at the dental office of Gregory A. Williams, we’d like to return to the reason why this study was able to use lead to trace human origins: teeth enamel is developing at a very early age. This means preventative dental care is critical not only for adults– but for children too! Dr. Gregory A. Williams urges regular and consistent dental care for his youngest patients to maintain and nurture their natural good health.
We hope you enjoyed learning about this latest research and look forward to seeing you at your next appointment with Dr. Williams!