Hooray For Beavers (And Scientists)!

We may soon have stronger teeth, thanks to beavers.

Our little furry friends do not floss. They don’t even brush their teeth. And they certainly don’t have regularly scheduled checkups with the dentist,or do any of the other things that humans need to do to keep our teeth bright and strong.

Beavers don’t need to fuss about oral hygiene because they have protection against tooth decay built right into the chemical structure of their teeth: iron. That’s why beavers teeth tend to be a less-than-attractive shade of orange.

Ah, but this pigmented enamel is much harder and more resistant to acid than the enamel on human teeth, even if your teeth have been treated with fluoride and sealants. But fear not, we (probably) don’t need to trade in our pearly whites for tangerine-tinged teeth. Scientists figure that this discovery can help them better understand tooth decay in humans and point to new as well as improved treatment options that can make our teeth beaver-strong.

Know your Teeth

Tooth Enamel is the strongest substance that the human body produces – and its stronger than any other substance on earth except for diamonds.  Comprised mostly of calcium and phosphate, stretched in neatly woven layers of “nanowires,” each nanowire smaller in diameter than a red blood cell – tooth enamel is much more resilient than bone. But enamel needs a steady supply of minerals to stay strong.

Acid – typically produced by sugar-hungry bacteria that metabolize it –  strips enamel  of the minerals it needs to remain healthy. Over time, enamel can grow so weak that is is unable to protect your teeth from bacteria. And that’s when decay and gum disease sets in.

Tooth enamel is also tough to study in a lab, because its a very complex structure. Without having a complete understanding of enamel’s makeup, it’s been difficult to develop advanced treatments to protect and strengthen teeth. But now a team of scientists at Northwestern University have successfully analyzed rabbit, mouse, rat and beaver enamel at the nanoscale level, and have revealed its exact composition and structure.

Beaver and human teeth are biologically similar. But where our enamel is infused with magnesium, beavers have those iron-infused incisors.  And the study showed, unsurprisingly, that beaver enamel is far more resistant to acid than fluoride-treated enamel.

Wave Bye-Bye To Cavities?

What we call cavities, dentists usually call “dental caries” (“Caries” is Latin for “rottenness.”) . Whatever you call them, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases and a major public health problem.

According to the American Dental Association, $111 billion a year is spent on dental services in the U.S., a significant part of that on cavities and other tooth decay issues. Sixty-to-ninety percent of children and nearly 100 percent of adults worldwide have or have had cavities, according to the World Health Organization.

Enter the beaver.

“A beaver’s teeth are chemically different from our teeth, not structurally different,” Derek Joester,  lead author of the study and an associate professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.said. “Biology has shown us a way to improve on our enamel. The strategy of what we call ‘grain boundary engineering’ — focusing on the area surrounding the nanowires — lights the way in which we could improve our current treatment with fluoride.”

What all that means to those of us who aren’t scientists: Grain boundaries are the areas in between the enamel’s nanowires. These are the spots that are most vulnerable to acid attacks followed by decay. Now that we know exactly where specific minerals live in tooth enamel, we can develop treatments that directly target the weaker parts of our teeth. While it’s unlikely that we will ever be able to effortlessly chew through trees, with a little luck and a lot of work, this study could someday lead to human teeth that are far more resistant to decay.

In the meantime, the best way to keep your teeth cavity-free is through good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist. If proper dental care isn’t in your budget, get a dental savings plan. You’ll save 10%-60% at the dentist, and be able to keep your smile healthy and bright.To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.

 

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