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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington Study: Crooked Bite May Indicate Early Life Stress

New research from the University of Washington suggests that crooked bites and teeth may be a novel marker for early life stress.

The research, published in the American Journal of Human Biology, was conducted among a representative sample of United States adolescents in whom diabetes and obesity exploded in later life.  The findings show that as many as one in four in this generation had crooked bites and teeth in adolescence.

“Asymmetries in the skull and teeth have been used for decades by anthropologists to mark environmental stress, but they have only rarely been used in living populations,” said corresponding author Dr. Philippe Hujoel, a professor in the UW School of Dentistry and an adjunct professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health.

Dr. Hujoel, Dr. Erin Masterson (who recently earned her PhD in epidemiology from the School of Public Health) and Dr. Anne-Marie Bollen researched data gathered from 1966 to 1970, a sample of 6,654 12- to 17-year-olds involved in a National Health Examination Survey. The team had to look back four decades for data because in the 1970s, Dr. Hujoel says, dental researchers in charge of designing U.S. surveys began to disregard the value of diagnosing facial asymmetry, and stopped taking those measurements. “From a biological perspective, this decision resulted in an inability to reliably track trends in the U.S.,” Dr. Hujoel said. “We don’t have current information on the prevalence of lower-face asymmetries in the U.S. population.”

Further research is needed to identify whether lower-face asymmetries are predictive of chronic diseases. Dr. Bollen, an orthodontist, added: “The advantage of using crooked bites and teeth as a marker for early life stress is that it can literally be assessed in seconds with a peek at the way the teeth bite together. Straightening out these crooked bites with orthodontics may be the easy part. The challenge will be to see if the harmful effects or early life stress can be negated and prevented.”