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Bioinspir Biomim. 2016 Sep 12;11(5):051003. doi: 10.1088/1748-3190/11/5/051003.

Learning from evolutionary optimisation: what are toughening mechanisms good for in dentine, a nonrepairing bone tissue?

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Julius-Wolff-Institute Charité Berlin Föhrerstr. 15 D-13353 Berlin, Germany.


The main mass of material found in teeth is dentine, a bone-like tissue, riddled with micron-sized tubules and devoid of living cells. It provides support to the outer wear-resistant layer of enamel, and exhibits toughening mechanisms which contribute to crack resistance. And yet unlike most bone tissues, dentine does not remodel and consequently any accumulated damage does not 'self repair'. Because damage containment followed by tissue replacement is a prime reason for the crack-arresting microstructures found in most bones, the occurrence of toughening mechanisms without the biological capability to repair is puzzling. Here we consider the notion that dentine might be overdesigned for strength, because it has to compensate for the lack of cell-mediated healing mechanisms. Based on our own and on literature-reported observations, including quasistatic and fatigue properties, dentine design principles are discussed in light of the functional conditions under which teeth evolved. We conclude that dentine is only slightly overdesigned for everyday cyclic loading because usual mastication stresses may come close to its endurance strength. The in-built toughening mechanisms constitute an evolutionary benefit because they prevent catastrophic failure during rare overload events, which was probably very advantageous in our hunter gatherer ancestor times. From a bio-inspired perspective, understanding the extent of evolutionary overdesign might be useful for optimising biomimetic structures used for load bearing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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