It may seem silly, but recent discovery is pointing to some valuable insight from beavers. These animals are pretty fascinating, particularly when it comes to their teeth. A beaver is the largest of all rodents on the planet and their teeth never stop growing. While their teeth keep on growing, beavers gnaw on wood constantly, which keeps their teeth from growing to enormous lengths. Beavers utilize their sharp, large lower and upper incisors to peel away bark and cut down trees to eat. But what do beaver teeth have to do with human teeth? Well, it’s curious to think about the fact that while beavers do not brush their teeth, they still are able to protect against tooth decay.
A recent study released from Northwestern University identifies that iron is the chemical structure that is protecting beaver’s teeth from tooth decay. Taking this information, researchers are now looking into how this could connect to human tooth decay. Beavers have pigmented enamel which is which is more resistant to acid and stronger than regular enamel. Therefore, the results of this study are pushing dental experts to look into how this information could lead to earlier detection of oral diseases as well as providing a source of improvement on fluoride treatments being used now.
Studying enamel is difficult for even the most advanced experts due to its complex structure. Derk Joester, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science’s lead author of the study and an associate professor of materials science and engineering, stated, “We have made a really big step forward in understanding the composition and structure of enamel — the tooth’s protective outer layer — at the smallest length scales”.
He continued, “The unstructured material, which makes up only a small fraction of enamel, likely plays a role in tooth decay. We found it is the minority ions — the ones that provide diversity — that really make the difference in protection. In regular enamel, it’s magnesium, and in the pigmented enamel of beaver and other rodents, it’s iron.” As one of the most common chronic diseases suffered by man today, better understanding tooth decay is critical to address this public health problem. These new developments in understanding beaver tooth enamel may prove to be instrumental in making necessary advances to fight tooth decay in humans.