The STRONG Study: Uncovering the Impact of Early Life Experiences Using Teeth

The following is the third post of a guest blog series written by researchers in the Dunn Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. Read the first and second posts.

In this third and final post, we shift gears to talk about a new study we recently launched to collect children’s shed baby teeth.

Up this week is a Q&A with me and Olivia, a Research Coordinator for The STRONG Study. Visit our study website to learn more.

Think you might be eligible to participate? Click here to take the eligibility survey. And help us spread the word by sharing this post via social media.

What does STRONG stand for?

STRONG stands for Stories Teeth Record of Newborn Growth. The name really encompasses what we are trying to investigate in this study. Our research team is interested in exploring the different stories that teeth may record.

In this study, we’re specifically interested in better understanding how the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt in 2013 affected mothers in Boston and around the world, and how these events might be recorded in children’s teeth. In order to test this idea, we are collecting children’s baby teeth as they fall out.

Wait, did you say teeth? Why are you studying teeth? What can you learn from them?

If you haven’t noticed already, we think teeth are pretty cool. We are studying teeth because we think they may contain clues about early life experiences that can influence people’s health and well being.

If our hypothesis is correct, teeth could be a very important new tool that aids parents, pediatricians, and dentists in helping all children reach their full potential. Check out this video to learn more about teeth – and how they contain growth rings that are similar to the rings in a tree marking its age.


Why are you studying the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt?

Our goal is to help all children grow-up to be healthy and strong. One of the biggest threats to healthy child development is exposure to adverse life events, or adversities – such as growing up in poverty, losing a loved one, witnessing a traumatic event, experiencing a natural disaster, or some other type of stressful event.

Unfortunately, these adversities are common, affecting up to 60% of children worldwide. 

There is still a lot that scientists have to learn about how these adversities affect child development. We think teeth might serve as a tool to help us identify if and when these adversities may have occurred. With this information, we hope to identify strategies to improve resilience among children.

The marathon bombings and later manhunt in April 2013 affected a lot of people living, working, studying, and visiting Boston. The bombings and manhunt were highly traumatic for many people—including those who were at the finish line, nearby, or were watching at home on TV.

We know from prior research studies that this attack, and events like it, can have a lasting impact on people’s lives. By studying the teeth of children who had different levels of exposure to the bombing either in utero or in very early life, we are hoping to learn more about how teeth might record these events as they are still forming.

Who is eligible to take part in the STRONG study?

We are recruiting women who delivered a baby from April 1, 2012 to November 4, 2013 to participate in this study.

Do I need to have been in close contact with the bombing to participate in this study?

No. You do not need to have any connection to the bombings and manhunt to participate in the study. In fact, we are interested in hearing from people with all different types experiences and stories.

What is involved to participate in this study?

There are three main parts to the STRONG study:

First is completing an eligibility survey by phone or securely via the web. This will help us determine if you are eligible to participate. It should take 5 minutes to complete. To complete the eligibility survey by phone, call us at 617-643-7094. If you’d like to complete it securely via the web, click here.

Second, if you are eligible to participate, the next step will be to complete an electronic consent form, and then a 30-minute phone intake to gather more information about you, your pregnancy, and your exposure to the marathon and manhunt. This phone intake can be scheduled at a time that is most convenient for you.

Third, you and your child will then receive a kit in the mail with materials to help you and your child complete the remaining parts of the study. This will include: 1) Completing a study survey by paper or via the web (30 minutes). 2) Saving your child’s baby teeth as they fall out to send back to us. 3) Sending relevant medical and dental records to our research team. Overall, we estimate that it will take no more than 2-3 hours of your time to participate.

What are the benefits to participating?

Study participants can receive up to $50 in gift cards for their time.

What do you hope to learn?

This study is only a stepping-stone in understanding how early life experiences affect tooth and brain development. This is the first time that researchers have tested the hypothesis or idea that teeth might record traumatic events.

We hope this information will help us better understand how teeth can be used in the future, but there is still a very long way to go to get there.  Part of what we are hoping to learn in this research study is how we can use the results to one day identify children who might need some additional help.

You can also read an article recently published in the Boston Globe that talks more about the goals of our research on teeth.

I don’t think I am eligible. Are there other ways I can help?

To answer challenging research questions, it takes a village. You can support our work in many ways:

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