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Biomaterials. 2010 Mar;31(7):1955-63. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2009.11.045. Epub 2009 Dec 6.

Size-dependent elastic/inelastic behavior of enamel over millimeter and nanometer length scales.

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Institute of Advanced Ceramics, Hamburg University of Technology, Hamburg 21073, Germany.


The microstructure of enamel like most biological tissues has a hierarchical structure which determines their mechanical behavior. However, current studies of the mechanical behavior of enamel lack a systematic investigation of these hierarchical length scales. In this study, we performed macroscopic uni-axial compression tests and the spherical indentation with different indenter radii to probe enamel's elastic/inelastic transition over four hierarchical length scales, namely: 'bulk enamel' (mm), 'multiple-rod' (10's microm), 'intra-rod' (100's nm with multiple crystallites) and finally 'single-crystallite' (10's nm with an area of approximately one hydroxyapatite crystallite). The enamel's elastic/inelastic transitions were observed at 0.4-17 GPa depending on the length scale and were compared with the values of synthetic hydroxyapatite crystallites. The elastic limit of a material is important as it provides insights into the deformability of the material before fracture. At the smallest investigated length scale (contact radius approximately 20 nm), elastic limit is followed by plastic deformation. At the largest investigated length scale (contact size approximately 2 mm), only elastic then micro-crack induced response was observed. A map of elastic/inelastic regions of enamel from millimeter to nanometer length scale is presented. Possible underlying mechanisms are also discussed.

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