Materials scientists studying beavers have discovered why the crafty rodents never get cavities: the enamel in their teeth is rich in iron. Iron, they found, resists acid more effectively than fluoride.

Scientific American reports:

If you zoom way in, tooth enamel looks almost like the weave of a basket "where each thread is made from thousands of nanowires," [according to] Derk Joester of Northwestern University. And in between those crystalline nanowires, Joester and his colleagues discovered a sort of amorphous glue. And that's where the fluoride hangs out, helping to stave off an acid attack of the enamel — in other words, a cavity.

Tests of beaver teeth revealed that the "glue" in the enamel coating the animals' famed chompers is rich in iron, and it's even better at preventing cavities than fluoride.

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So will we be seeing iron-enriched mouthwash anytime soon? Well... there's a catch. A kind of huge one: iron stains your teeth a rusty color. But Joester is optimistic:

"We have the entire periodic table to play with minus a few things that are not too healthy. So I'm sure we can come up with a way to do what the beaver does but do it better and do it in a way that still maintains a nice smile."

Read the scientific paper in Science here.

Photo by Paul Stevenson.

[Via Scientific American]