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Cracking the secret of enamel


Constantino, Lucas, and colleagues from Israel and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) discovered a functional role for the presence of small microstructural crack-like defects, called tufts, at the base of human tooth enamel. This study combined experimental fracture mechanics with finite element modeling to show that tufts absorb much of the load during biting and chewing, and their sheer numbers keep any one tuft from extending to the outer tooth surface, thus containing the damage within the tooth. Enamel tufts were long thought to be developmental defects with no functional importance, but this research showed that they play a critical role in protecting teeth from catastrophic failure. This study is one part of a multi-year collaboration between CASHP and NIST and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2009, Vol. 106: 7289-7293).

Address Goals

The identification of a functional role for tufts was a genuinely new discovery, and the wide publicity it received online meant that it reached a wide national and international audience.