Beavers provide a look into better cavity prevention

Beavers love to chew on trees, right? Though it's more than likely that you've never seen a beaver in the wild—they are nocturnal and prefer to be far away from human activity—it's easy to tell where they've been from the freshly cut trees, dams, and lodges. They use their famous teeth every day to chomp through wood and even build themselves two room houses in which to living happily near the water. 

How is it that beavers can maintain teeth strong enough to chew through trees when they don't even brush, floss or use fluoride, and something as small as chewing on ice is frowned upon for us humans?

What causes our teeth to decay?

We are constantly looking for ways to improve our oral health. The health of our mouth vastly affects our overall health, and in the United States, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases. Naturally, scientists are constantly researching ways to make our teeth more cavity resistant. 

The enamel on our teeth might look strong, but upon closer inspection it is actually similar to a weaved basket. It's quite porous and it's easy for bacteria and acid to cause tooth decay. This is why fluoride is recommended. Fluoride safeguards our enamel and makes it stronger to help prevent cavities, but it's not completely effective. It definitely helps, but we still get cavities.

What’s different about beaver teeth?

Researchers have recently found something in an unexpected place that works better than fluoride. It’s iron and it's present in beaver teeth. The iron in beaver enamel makes it extremely strong and resistant to decay. 

Rodent enamel is actually very similar to human enamel and although beaver teeth are chemically different than ours, the structure of the enamel is similar; similar enough to get researchers excited. It has been an amazing breakthrough in dental care and in learning more about the complexity of enamel. Who would have thought that studying beaver teeth on a molecular level could help us improve our own teeth?

Will we be adopting a beaver’s smile?

There is one unfortunate side effect to having strong iron-rich teeth. If you've ever seen a beaver, you'll know that their teeth are an unattractive rusty orange color. That color is a result of the iron in their teeth, and it is what tipped researchers off as to what was different about beaver teeth in the first place.

Of course, beavers don't care about the color of their strong healthy teeth, but it's highly doubtful that rust-red teeth will ever be in style for us. Scientists are busy exploring new options for our dental health, so don't be surprised if you see dental treatments involving iron in the near future. 

Though we regard many of their rodent relatives to be pests, we may soon be thanking the busy beaver for giving us the secret to stronger, healthier teeth!

Related Articles