Does the tooth fairy hold the key to unlocking Autism?

Posted at 8:04 AM, Jul 13, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-13 08:04:49-04

by Wendy Rigby

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (KENS) – Scientists looking for clues to what causes autism are taking an unusual approach. They’re studying baby teeth to find out more about the baffling neurological disorder.

University of Texas Health Science Center epidemiologist Dr. Ray Palmer is taking a new approach to studying autism using discarded baby teeth.

He is taking donated teeth from children with and without autism. The teeth are ground up into a powder and then made into a liquid and a gas. The samples are then put through a process called mass spectrometry. The process can reveal compounds like pesticides, plastics and even medicines that the child was exposed to in the womb and as they grew.

“It’s been done by looking at blood or hair analysis, but that’s only a snapshot in time of recent exposure. It doesn’t provide a historical record of exposure like the teeth do, “said Dr. Palmer. “So, when the teeth are forming, that’s a record of what you’ve been exposed to in utero.”

This kind of research is called tooth-fairy studies. Many scientists beleive a genetic predisposition combined with environmental exposure triggers autism.

"This is one of the most severe epidemics affecting children. It's really a wide open field and it's way overdue," Dr. Palmer said.

The group Autism Speaks provided $100,000 for the study.