Nursing and Enamel: the Surprising Connection

Best smile in town!Dental science is a fascinating field; it doesn’t just inform the best dental practices for our patients, it can also reveal new facts in completely different disciplines– like anthropology! 

Scientists have found a link between the prenatal growth rate of babies’ enamel, and their subsequent weaning from breast milk. This information can tell us a lot about prehistoric human ancestors, their social structure, and eating habits.

The importance of enamel

Dental enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and the integrity of our teeth depends on it. Enamel protects the (relatively speaking) softer inner layers of the tooth from extremes of heat and cold, from exposure to bacteria, and forms the rock-hard cutting and grinding surface that is so convenient for eating.

While most children are born without teeth, their bodies have started tooth formation– including enamel formation– before their birth. 

Growth rates

Researchers examined the enamel growth rates to learn about the order and timing of tooth development in the prenatal stage of life. According to their findings, children’s incisor teeth (the teeth at the very front of our mouths, used for cutting) grow very fast, and at an earlier stage of development– the second trimester. Molars, on the other hand, grow more slowly, and later in prenatal development– during the third trimester of pregnancy.

The difference in these growth rates means that following birth, children’s incisors are ready to erupt earlier– at approximately 6 months of age.

Anthropology and dentistry

This is where the anthropological side of things comes in. Scientists studying prehistoric humans have very few clues to learn about ancient humans’ social behaviors, and one of these is the practice and timing of nursing and weaning babies. 

While the practice of nursing may vary widely in modern times– ranging from none at all up to several years– early humans probably followed a pattern similar to one another. And scientists believe that by following the development of teeth, they may be able to make some educated guesses on what that pattern may be. 

Scientists believe that by following patterns of enamel growth, they hope to be able to learn more about the early nursing and weaning behavior in a new way because deciduous teeth preserve a record of their prenatal enamel growth prior to eruption.

Bring your dental curiosity with you to your next appointment

Learning about the connection between dentistry and other sciences is exciting– but at Must Love Kids, the best part of our job is you. Our patients are what make pediatric dentistry in Vancouver the fun, exciting, and fulfilling. 

We look forward to seeing you at your next appointment!

 

Photo Credit: Ivan Plata via Compfight cc

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