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Tooth Enamel

September 20, 2016

A 3D map of the structure of tooth enamel may help scientists protect it, and even imitate it.



The secrets of tough teeth. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Tooth enamel is the hardest material in the human body, and it has an incredibly complex structure. University of Sydney materials engineer Julie Cairney and her colleagues created a 3D map of the atoms in dental enamel, using a new technique called atom probe tomography. In the journal Science Advances, they report that enamel has calcium phosphate studded with magnesium atoms, in between a complex array of hydroxyapetite nanorods. She says the calcium phosphate material is what gets attacked by the acids in dental plaque.

JULIE CAIRNEY (University of Sydney):

So if we understand how decay occurs, that gives us the opportunity to really make some headway into treatments to stop decay from taking place.


In addition, she says understanding the structure of this super-strong material opens up the possibility of imitating it to design new materials for a variety of uses. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon