Signs of Autism Can Be Found in Children's Baby Teeth, New Study Suggests

Scientists have created a new test which can identify whether a child has autism by looking at their baby teeth.

The paper is centered around how children metabolize metals, which are critical to neurodevelopment in early life. An imbalance in this process has previously been linked with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City wanted to uncover the mechanisms which underlie this link.

As children grow, a new layer of tooth is formed each day which shows the chemicals circulating in their body, similar to growth rings on a tree. In a nationwide study of baby teeth from 200 twins in Sweden, the researchers used lasers to test whether zinc-copper cycles were different in those with autism. 

The results indicated that zinc-copper cycles in fetuses and children with autism were affected in a number of ways when compared with children without the condition. They were able to reproduce the same results in studies of children in the U.S and the U.K.

Using this data, the team were able to create an algorithm that was 90% accurate in distinguishing between teeth from children with autism and those without. The authors published their findings in the journal Science Advances.

teeth-children-stock Researchers have created an algorithm which can detect whether a child has autism. Getty Images

Dr. Manish Arora, an author of the study and vice chairman of the department of environmental medicine and public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine, told Newsweek: "One of the big challenges in autism is developing a biochemical assay for identifying early in life those who are at risk of autism spectrum disorder later in childhood. At present, the commonly used diagnostic tools are based on clinical assessments and observations, which cannot be used at birth."

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, told HealthDay that as the analyses were done after the teeth were shed by children the algorithm “won't ever allow clinicians to truly predict autism, since the diagnosis is clinically evident by the time that children start to lose their baby teeth." The paper could, however, lead to other studies that can identify prenatal markers for autism, he said. 

Acknowledging that teeth shed too late to be used directly as adiagnostic tool, Dr. Arora said: "the identification of a consistently dysregulated pathway will allow us to develop similar assays in blood and other matrices that can be accessed at birth or early childhood."

This article has been updated with comment from Dr. Manish Arora. 

Join the Discussion