The Tooth About Beavers

Finally! Incisive research on beaver teeth!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Beavers are amazing. They’re not only master carpenters, but they fell timber with their teeth! Don’t try that at home!

And like many rodents, beavers’ incisors continually grow. What’s more, they don’t get cavities. So what makes beaver teeth so tough?

Enter Derk Joester, a materials science engineer at Northwestern University. He and his team used special imaging technology on beaver teeth. It’s called “atom probe tomography” or APT. It pulses ultraviolet light at objects. This causes atoms on the object’s surface to evaporate, releasing charged particles called ions. An imaging detector then identifies each ion’s chemical composition. From this, APT creates a 3-D chemical map that’s incredibly precise.

What did APT reveal about beaver teeth? Turns out structurally they’re similar to our teeth. But chemically? Where our teeth contain magnesium, beaver teeth have iron. Making them impervious to cavities, plus terrific for woodcarving.

Joester says this information could lead to new cavity prevention treatments.

So, for happier trips to the dentist? Leave it to beaver.