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J Anat. 2011 Sep;219(3):259-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2011.01396.x. Epub 2011 May 25.

Using occlusal wear information and finite element analysis to investigate stress distributions in human molars.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


Simulations based on finite element analysis (FEA) have attracted increasing interest in dentistry and dental anthropology for evaluating the stress and strain distribution in teeth under occlusal loading conditions. Nonetheless, FEA is usually applied without considering changes in contacts between antagonistic teeth during the occlusal power stroke. In this contribution we show how occlusal information can be used to investigate the stress distribution with 3D FEA in lower first molars (M(1)). The antagonistic crowns M(1) and P(2)-M(1) of two dried modern human skulls were scanned by μCT in maximum intercuspation (centric occlusion) contact. A virtual analysis of the occlusal power stroke between M(1) and P(2)-M(1) was carried out in the Occlusal Fingerprint Analyser (OFA) software, and the occlusal trajectory path was recorded, while contact areas per time-step were visualized and quantified. Stress distribution of the M(1) in selected occlusal stages were analyzed in strand7, considering occlusal information taken from OFA results for individual loading direction and loading area. Our FEA results show that the stress pattern changes considerably during the power stroke, suggesting that wear facets have a crucial influence on the distribution of stress on the whole tooth. Grooves and fissures on the occlusal surface are seen as critical locations, as tensile stresses are concentrated at these features. Properly accounting for the power stroke kinematics of occluding teeth results in quite different results (less tensile stresses in the crown) than usual loading scenarios based on parallel forces to the long axis of the tooth. This leads to the conclusion that functional studies considering kinematics of teeth are important to understand biomechanics and interpret morphological adaptation of teeth.

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