Teeth as a biomarker of past chemical exposure

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Purpose of review

Accurate prenatal exposure assessment is one of the major challenges in environmental epidemiologic studies. Variations in placental transport make maternal biospecimens unreliable for many chemicals and fetal specimens collected at birth do not provide information on exposure timing over the prenatal period.

Recent findings

The skeletal compartment is an important chemical repository, making calcified tissues important for measuring exposure. For decades teeth have been used to estimate long-term cumulative exposure to metals and some organic chemicals. Recently developed methodologies that combine sophisticated histological and chemical analysis to precisely sample tooth layers that correspond to specific life stages have the potential to reconstruct exposure in the second and third trimesters of prenatal development and during early childhood.


Such a retrospective biomarker that precisely measures exposure intensity and timing during prenatal development would substantially aid epidemiologic investigations, particularly case–control studies of rare health outcomes.

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