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Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2003;14(1):13-29.

The mechanical properties of human dentin: a critical review and re-evaluation of the dental literature.

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  • 1Division of Biomaterials and Bioengineering, Department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences, Mail Stop 0758, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0758, USA.


The past 50 years of research on the mechanical properties of human dentin are reviewed. Since the body of work in this field is highly inconsistent, it was often necessary to re-analyze prior studies, when possible, and to re-assess them within the framework of composite mechanics and dentin structure. A critical re-evaluation of the literature indicates that the magnitudes of the elastic constants of dentin must be revised considerably upward. The Young's and shear moduli lie between 20-25 GPa and 7-10 GPa, respectively. Viscoelastic behavior (time-dependent stress relaxation) measurably reduces these values at strain rates of physiological relevance; the reduced modulus (infinite relaxation time) is about 12 GPa. Furthermore, it appears as if the elastic properties are anisotropic (not the same in all directions); sonic methods detect hexagonal anisotropy, although its magnitude appears to be small. Strength data are re-interpreted within the framework of the Weibull distribution function. The large coefficients of variation cited in all strength studies can then be understood in terms of a distribution of flaws within the dentin specimens. The apparent size-effect in the tensile and shear strength data has its origins in this flaw distribution, and can be quantified by the Weibull analysis. Finally, the relatively few fracture mechanics and fatigue studies are discussed. Dentin has a fatigue limit. For stresses smaller than the normal stresses of mastication, approximately 30 MPa, a flaw-free dentin specimen apparently will not fail. However, a more conservative approach based on fatigue crack growth rates indicates that if there is a pre-existing flaw of sufficient size (approximately 0.3-1.0 mm), it can grow to catastrophic proportion with cyclic loading at stresses below 30 MPa.

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