Good 4 You: SA Researchers look at teeth for link to Autism


Did you know your teeth can tell a lot about you? In fact, researchers at UT Health San Antonio are hoping baby teeth will tell them a lot about autism.

In this week's Good 4 You segment, one of those researchers donated her own autistic son's teeth for the study -- with one goal in mind: to find a cause.

Lynne Heilbrun is one of the researchers on the so-called Tooth Fairy Study. Both her sons have developmental disabilities. "Both of their disabilities have been linked to a pesticide that was used in our home," said Heilbrun. She says it was found in their teeth.

Another researcher on the study, Ray Palmer, says since teeth are formed in the womb, they can tell them which chemicals autistic children may have been exposed to in utero. "Like rings of a tree," Palmer explained. "They just stay there forever more until the child sheds the teeth around age seven. Well, now we have a historical record of what's inside of those teeth."

In a lab, they process the teeth and reduce them to atoms, which can be matched to a database that tells them which chemicals or toxins are inside them. Then, they compare the results with teeth from kids with no developmental disorders. "We've discovered actually five different plasticizers, or chemicals found in plastics, in children's baby teeth," said Heilbrun.

She says she believes that some children aren't genetically wired to fight off toxins they're exposed to early in life and that's what may lead to developmental disorders like autism. "In my family," she explained. "We fell below the 10th percentile in the ability to detoxify the pesticide that we were exposed to."

The study is still in the early stages and they need more teeth -- specifically, from kids who don't have autism.

If you're interested in more information, call (210) 274-4009 or go to the UT Health: The Autism Tooth Fairy Study webpage.

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