A recent study at Northwestern University found that high concentrations of iron in the teeth of beavers makes their enamel both harder and more resistant to chemicals, including acids. This research could lead to advancements in both the prevention and detection of tooth decay in humans. The study found that the presence of iron in the beavers’ enamel was more resistant to decay than human teeth that had been treated with fluoride, which could provide the building blocks for improving fluoride treatments.
Because tooth enamel has such a complex structure, it is extremely difficult to study. This research is the first of its kind, and has revealed an amorphous, or unstructured, phase in the enamel composition. “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,” said Joester, lead author of the study and an associate professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “The unstructured material, which makes up only a small fraction of enamel, likely plays a role in tooth decay,” Joester said.
This is great news for adults and children worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, up to 90 percent of children and 100 percent of adults worldwide have or have had cavities. While those numbers are staggering, they clearly illustrate the need for improvements in the prevention, detection and treatment of tooth decay. We can all hope that this research is continued and leads to worldwide improvement in oral health.