A mini me?: exploring early childhood diet with stable isotope ratio analysis using primary teeth dentin

Arch Oral Biol. 2014 Nov;59(11):1226-32. doi: 10.1016/j.archoralbio.2014.07.014. Epub 2014 Jul 24.


Objectives: Reconstruct childhood diet using teeth collected in Edmonton in a collaborative effort between the Departments of Dentistry and Anthropology at the University of Alberta.

Methods: Deciduous teeth needing extraction were collected from 33 children for stable isotope ratio analysis of diet. Tooth dentin was microsampled in three locations using a newly developed technique to reconstruct the changing pattern of participants' diet through early childhood including breastfeeding practices.

Results: The microsampling method can reconstruct diet with tiny samples (0.3 mg). The results reconstruct fetal isotope ratios, which showed significant variation. δ(15)N values indicate some children were being breastfed (7/17), while others were likely bottle fed (10/17). Surprisingly, the early childhood results do not show the range of diets expected in adults based on known eating habits. Toddler diets form a tight cluster implying diets of similar isotopic composition in almost all of the households despite potential cultural and class distinctions (δ(15)N values 11-11.5‰, δ(13)C values around -18‰). The δ(13)C values show a strong C₃ dependence for most children, a two outliers show C₄ (-12‰) dependence indicating a possible corn based diet.

Conclusions: Microsampling can potentially track each child's diet through early childhood. For this group of children, both breastfeeding and bottle feeding was practiced. However, the percent of breastfed infants was less than reported Canadian rates. Surprisingly, the choice to breastfeed or to bottle feed was not linked to the choice of toddler diet. All toddler diets were narrower in scope than adult diets.

Keywords: Carbon isotopes; Diet; Human; Nitrogen isotopes; Primary teeth.

MeSH terms

  • Alberta
  • Carbon Isotopes*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dentin / chemistry*
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nitrogen Isotopes*
  • Tooth, Deciduous / chemistry*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes