Monday to Friday8AM - 9PM
Address #240 6180 Blundell Rd, Richmond, BC V7C 4W7

How does tooth enamel last a lifetime?

25 November 2019by Emma Churchill22

If we cut our skin or break a bone, these tissues will repair themselves; our bodies are excellent at recovering from injury.

Tooth enamel, however, cannot regenerate, and the oral cavity is a hostile environment.

Every mealtime, enamel is put under incredible stress; it also weathers extreme changes in both pH and temperature.

Despite this adversity, the tooth enamel that we develop as a child remains with us throughout our days.

Researchers have long been interested in how enamel manages to stay functional and intact for a lifetime.

As one of the authors of the latest study, Prof. Pupa Gilbert from the University of Wisconsin–Madison puts it, “How does it prevent catastrophic failure?”

The secrets of enamel

With assistance from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and the University of Pittsburgh, PA, Prof. Gilbert took a detailed look at the structure of enamel.

The team of scientists has now published the results of its study in the journal Nature Communications.

Enamel is made up of so-called enamel rods, which consist of hydroxyapatite crystals. These long, thin enamel rods are around 50 nanometers wide and 10 micrometers long.

By using cutting edge imaging technology, the scientists could visualize how individual crystals in tooth enamel are aligned. The technique, which Prof. Gilbert designed, is called polarization-dependent imaging contrast (PIC) mapping.

Before the advent of PIC mapping, it was impossible to study enamel with this level of detail. “[Y]ou can measure and visualize, in color, the orientation of individual nanocrystals and see many millions of them at once,” explains Prof. Gilbert.

The architecture of complex biominerals, such as enamel, becomes immediately visible to the naked eye in a PIC map.

When they viewed the structure of enamel, the researchers uncovered patterns. “By and large, we saw that there was not a single orientation in each rod, but a gradual change in crystal orientations between adjacent nanocrystals,” explains Gilbert. “And then the question was, ‘Is this a useful observation?'”

The importance of crystal orientation

To test whether the change in crystal alignment influences the way that enamel responds to stress, the team recruited help from Prof. Markus Buehler of MIT. Using a computer model, they simulated the forces that hydroxyapatite crystals would experience when a person chews.

Within the model, they placed two blocks of crystals next to each other so that the blocks touched along one edge. The crystals within each of the two blocks were aligned, but where they came in contact with the other block, the crystals met at an angle.

To investigate, co-author Cayla Stifler returned to the original PIC mapping information and measured the angles between adjacent crystals. After generating millions of data points, Stifler found that 1 degree was the most common size of misorientation, and the maximum was 30 degrees.

This observation agreed with the simulation — smaller angles seem better able to deflect cracks.

Now we know that cracks are deflected at the nanoscale and, thus, can’t propagate very far. That’s the reason our teeth can last a lifetime without being replaced.

Prof. Pupa Gilbert


  • Allison Kapichok

    2 July 2023 at 11:53 pm

    I value your willingness to share your expertise with others; it’s highly appreciated.


  • Rafael Olague

    15 May 2024 at 12:32 pm

    You have an remarkable ability to transform everyday topics into captivating content. Keep up the outstanding work!


  • Colby Herter

    15 May 2024 at 1:46 pm

    Your website is invigorating. The standard of your writing makes visiting a delight.


  • Palmer Larmett

    15 May 2024 at 1:46 pm

    Your blog has quickly become my go-to source for inspiration. I yearn for more!


  • Eddie Saporita

    15 May 2024 at 2:35 pm

    This was such a great read! Thanks for offering your valuable information.


  • Cleopatra Loukota

    15 May 2024 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you for sharing this insightful post. You did a fantastic job explaining your points. Looking forward to reading more from you.


  • Rhiannon Kilfoyle

    15 May 2024 at 3:07 pm

    Your dedication and passion radiate in each section, inspiring readers time and time again.


  • Donnette Boda

    15 May 2024 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you for providing your insights with the world. I truly appreciate visiting your website.


  • Galina Woodin

    15 May 2024 at 3:46 pm

    Your dedication resonates strongly in every word you compose. It’s genuinely commendable.


  • Nolan Oviatt

    15 May 2024 at 3:53 pm

    I value how your writing reflects your distinct character. It feels like we’re having a thought-provoking conversation.


  • Luther Freggiaro

    15 May 2024 at 4:09 pm

    I enjoy how your writing reflects your individual personality. It feels like we’re engaging in a thoughtful conversation.


  • Wyatt Reece

    15 May 2024 at 4:15 pm

    I love how you break down complex ideas into easy and understandable elements.


  • Gisele Espinosa

    15 May 2024 at 4:47 pm

    Your blog has become one of my preferred resources; I can’t wait for new articles.


  • Delmer Fults

    15 May 2024 at 5:04 pm

    Thank you for taking your time to share these valuable insights. It’s always refreshing to receive new perspectives on important topics like this.


  • Lacy Kotcher

    15 May 2024 at 5:08 pm

    Your blog consistently engages my attention, compelling me to devour every word from start to finish.


  • Maybelle Tolle

    15 May 2024 at 5:09 pm

    Your dedication and passion emanate in each paragraph, inspiring readers continuously.


  • Janene Rufus

    15 May 2024 at 5:18 pm

    This website is an excellent resource for students seeking more information on related subjects.


  • Johnie Lessard

    15 May 2024 at 6:08 pm

    I always appreciate reading your articles. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us.


  • Buford Lukesh

    15 May 2024 at 6:44 pm

    I admire your talent to turn ordinary topics into intriguing discussions. Keep it up!


  • Bella Lillard

    15 May 2024 at 6:46 pm

    You’ve provided valuable information that will certainly assist me in my endeavors.


  • Trenton Rajtar

    15 May 2024 at 7:42 pm

    Your passion is contagious, igniting excitement and curiosity about the topics you explore.


  • Waldo Mumper

    15 May 2024 at 8:02 pm

    This blog is loaded with valuable information, thanks for sharing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

We are a friendly team of dentists, hygienists and receptionists who work together to ensure that you receive the best treatment you require.

24/7 Emergency phone
Our Awards

Best Patient Care 2019
Best Practice & Best Team 2018
Best Team & Practice 2017

Working hours