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Underwater Dentist: Diver Lets Cleaner Shrimp Clean Teeth

A new video shows a scuba diver benefiting from the attention of a cleaner shrimp. The man removes his mouthpiece and lets the little arthropodic dentist climb into his mouth and poke around. This kind of commensalism is common in nature, and there are several aquatic species that play dentist and groomer to other fish on the reef.

Cleaner Shrimp and Other Underwater Dentists

It’s not just humans that can suffer from oral disease and parasites. Many fish species are vulnerable to parasites that can feed on the blood or flesh of their hosts, leading to weakness or illness. To protect themselves from parasites, these fish employ the help of cleaner species on the reef.

Close up of a cleaner shrimpIn the video, we see one of the more common types of cleaners, a skunk cleaner shrimp. The diver opens his mouth and the shrimp, after a moment’s hesitation, heads right in. You’ll notice in the video that there’s another shrimp nearby, though only one goes into the diver’s mouth. Cleaner shrimp often set up “cleaning stations,” where dozens of shrimp assemble. The shrimp will then do a “rocking dance” (presumably not the twist or the watusi) to advertise that they’re offering cleaning services. Fish will then come up to have themselves cleaned, opening their mouths and gills so that the shrimp can get inside and pull out parasites.

Cleaner shrimp aren’t the only type of cleaner species in the sea, either. Cleaner wrasse are a kind of small fish that offers cleaning services to fish out of their cleaning stations along the reef.

A Replacement for Brushing or Going to the Dentist?

So, assuming you could get over any squeamishness at having a shrimp climbing in your mouth, could you give up your brushing routine in favor of having a cleaner shrimp take care of your teeth? It certainly seems promising, but it’s not a good idea.

First, it’s hard to hold your breath long enough to give the shrimp adequate time to properly clean your mouth. Plus, the feeding pattern of cleaning shrimp is erratic. It might be adequate for animals that often have disposable teeth, but for humans, who depend on the integrity of every tooth, neglected regions of your mouth could be problematic.

Finally, cleaner shrimp cannot remove the tartar from your teeth. Tartar is hardened plaque that must be scraped away at regular checkup and cleaning visits to reduce the risk of gum disease.

But if you are looking for a terrestrial dentist in Tarrytown, please call (914) 357-8112 for an appointment at Advanced Dentistry of Tarrytown today.