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J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 2009 Jan;2(1):33-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2008.05.007. Epub 2008 Jun 5.

Predicting failure in mammalian enamel.

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  • 1Ceramics Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, USA.


Dentition is a vital element of human and animal function, yet there is little fundamental knowledge about how tooth enamel endures under stringent oral conditions. This paper describes a novel approach to the issue. Model glass dome specimens fabricated from glass and back-filled with polymer resin are used as representative of the basic enamel/dentine shell structure. Contact loading is used to deform the dome structures to failure, in simulation of occlusal loading with opposing dentition or food bolus. To investigate the role of enamel microstructure, additional contact tests are conducted on two-phase materials that capture the essence of the mineralized-rod/organic-sheath structure of dental enamel. These materials include dental glass-ceramics and biomimicked composites fabricated from glass fibers infiltrated with epoxy. The tests indicate how enamel is likely to deform and fracture along easy sliding and fracture paths within the binding phase between the rods. Analytical relations describing the critical loads for each damage mode are presented in terms of material properties (hardness, modulus, toughness) and tooth geometry variables (enamel thickness, cusp radius). Implications in dentistry and evolutionary biology are discussed.

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