Using nanoscale technology, researchers have for the first time produced detailed 3D maps of the composition and structure of mature human tooth enamel. The maps show the position of atoms critical to the process of tooth decay.
The team from the University of Sydney in Australia describe their work in a paper published in the journal Science Advances and suggest it should help improve oral hygiene and prevent tooth decay.
Human dental enamel is the hardest tissue in the body. Scientists have already established that dental enamel’s mechanical strength and resistance to fatigue comes from its complex hierarchical structure of periodically arranged bundles of nanowires.
The new study gives detailed information about important trace ions in the tough structure of tooth enamel. Senior author Julie Cairney, materials and structures engineer and professor in Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, said: “The structure of human tooth enamel is extremely intricate and while we have known that magnesium, carbonate, and fluoride ions influence enamel properties, scientists have never been able to capture its structure at a high enough resolution or definition”.
One of the team’s key findings surrounds the magnesium-rich regions between the nanorods that make up the structure of tooth enamel. The team could also see ‘nanoscale clumps’ of organic material in the 3D structure.
One of the study’s lead researchers Dr Alexandre La Fontaine said: “The new understanding of how enamel forms will also help in tooth remineralisation research”.