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Variation in mechanical and structural properties of enamel in primate molars

By Ian Towle, Thomas Loho, Amira Salem, Carolina Loch

Posted 06 Jul 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.07.05.451217

Mechanical properties of enamel are known to vary across molar crowns in some primates, but the association of this variation with phylogeny, structural properties and tribological behaviour is not well understood. In this study, 20 molars from a range of primate taxa (n=15) were studied using nanoindentation, micro-CT scanning, and SEM imaging. After micro-CT scanning, teeth were sectioned in the lingual-buccal plane through the mesial cusps. Five positions (buccal lateral, buccal cuspal, occlusal middle, lingual cuspal, lingual lateral) were studied in three locations (inner, middle, outer enamel regions). The results show middle enamel had the highest hardness and elastic modulus values in all positions. 'Non-functional' molar sides (lingual in lower molars and buccal in upper molars) had higher hardness values than their 'functional' counterparts. Increase in prism size was associated with a decrease in hardness in some tooth positions, and mineral density showed a significant relationship with elastic modulus values. Variation in enamel structure variation (e.g., enamel Schmelzmuster, Hunter-Schreger band thickness), may also be crucial in explaining variation in mechanical properties, with decussation zones associated with higher mechanical properties values. Primate enamel is not a homogeneous material, with variation in mechanical and structural properties across the crown likely associated with functional differences and variation in force distribution. Overall structural and mechanical patterns were similar in the primate species studied despite substantial differences in diet, suggesting these properties are potentially evolutionary conserved.

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