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Are Your Teeth Cleaner Than a Monkey's Teeth?

Generally speaking, when someone likens your behavior to that of an animal, it’s not a compliment. But that may not ring true for one particular barrel of monkeys from Great Nicobar Island in India. The monkeys are long-tailed macaques, and they are said to have impeccable dental hygiene that rivals even the most hygienic of humans. A study conducted by scientists at the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History in Coimbatore, India, followed approximately 20 monkeys to observe their eating habits. But it wasn’t what the monkeys ate that left the scientists surprised – it was what they did after eating.

“Apparently, after they eat, some of the macaques use fibers to clean between their teeth, akin to how we humans use dental floss,” says Dr. Stephen Hill, a dentist from Allen, Texas.

The macaques were observed using everything from tree needles to feathers, grass and coconut fibers, and even pieces of found materials like nylon threads and metal wires.

“The coolest part is, this isn’t just isolated to the Great Nicobar Island macaques,” says Hill. “Long-tailed macaques in Thailand supposedly floss with human hair, and Japanese macaques use their own fur to floss.”

The macaques were also seen cleaning off their food with paper, leaves and other materials, and even rinsing food in puddles.

“It’s pretty cool because it shows you that dental hygiene isn’t just a human concept,” Hill says. “Clean teeth are important to many different species, and it seems like in the case of the macaques, it may actually be more of a priority to them than it is to some humans.”

That’s because the data on flossing in humans is pretty grim. According to the American Dental Association, only about 40 percent of Americans floss daily, and 20 percent don’t floss at all.

“There’s no more excuses to not floss your teeth,” Hill says. “It’s literally so easy, even a monkey can do it.”

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