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Lead Levels in Deciduous Teeth of Urban and Suburban American Children


LEAD poisoning is a serious threat to the health of American children living in urban ghettoes. Perlstein and Attala, studying 425 children treated for lead poisoning, found mental retardation in 22%, recurrent seizures in 20%, and cerebral palsy in 2%1. Many more children eat lead-containing substances and bear raised body levels of lead, but are not identified as being intoxicated2. If children with elevated tissue lead could be reliably identified, and their neurological and psychological function evaluated, the incidence of silent brain damage from lead ingestion could be established. Because elevations in blood lead are transitory, and decline once ingestion has stopped, blood lead levels are unsatisfactory indices of earlier exposure. Calcified tissues, however, store lead: bone biopsy procedures are impractical for large scale surveys, but it occurred to us that the exfoliated primary tooth might offer a way to examine the lead content of children who are at risk. Alshuler et al. reported a substantial increase in the lead content of deciduous teeth of children with fatal and treated plumbism3.

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  1. 1

    Perlstein, M. A., and Attala, R., Clin. Pediat., 5, 292 (1966).

  2. 2

    Oberle, M. W., Science, 165, 991 (1966).

  3. 3

    Altshuler, L. F., Halah, D. B., and Landing, B., J. Pediat., 60, 224 (1962).

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