Beavers provide dental decay breakthrough

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beavers-dental-decayA report published by researchers at Northwestern University in medical journal Frontiers in Physiology indicates that greater understanding of the tooth decay process might be found in beavers. The thick, bucked front teeth (incisors) of beavers are seemingly resistant to tooth decay despite not brushing their teeth or drinking fluoridated water in the same way that humans do, and according to the report, is the result of a protective chemical structure in their tooth: iron.

Both harder and more resistant to acid than regular enamel, the pigmented enamel of beavers’ teeth helps to better understand human tooth decay, earlier detection of the disease and help to improve fluoride treatments currently available.

Given the complex structure of enamel, it is difficult to study, but Derk Joester, the researcher leading the team, has demonstrated in the report that amorphous minerals rich in iron and magnesium, which control enamel’s acid resistance, goes through phases in teeth. “The unstructured material, which makes up only a small fraction of enamel, likely plays a role in tooth decay,” Joester wrote. “We found it it the minority irons – 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.”

The presence of iron is what gives beavers’ teeth their brown colour, and the team’s research shows that the chemical compound is an improvement on fluoride-treated enamel in resting acid. “A beaver’s teeth are chemically different from our teeth, not structurally different. 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.”

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