ABSTRACT: Enamel is a composite biomaterial comprising a minor organic matrix (~2%) and a hierarchically organized inorganic ultrastructure (~96-98%). Surprisingly, to date there is no available information in the literature regarding the possible role of the enamel ultrastructure on the nanoscale level in tooth macroscopic properties. Understanding this relationship is of special interest for restorative purposes in dentistry. Accordingly, this study was designed to investigate how enamel nanocrystals regulate its hardness. We performed microindentation analysis on 100 extracted human teeth. The tooth enamel hardness was quantified and correlated with changes in enamel chemical composition and crystallographic dimensions obtained from Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction, respectively. Enamel hardness was not related to the variability in organic content, but was associated with the size of apatite crystals along the c-axis. This association followed the Hall-Petch model for polycrystalline materials, indicating that the optimal size of apatite nanocrystals (larger than the critical size) provides enamel with the greatest hardness, which enables teeth to survive the heavy wear over a human lifetime.
Acta biomaterialia 06/2012; 8(9):3400-10. · 3.98 Impact Factor