A simple model for enamel fracture from margin cracks

Herzl Chai, James J.W. Lee, Jae Young Kwon, Peter W. Lucas, Brian R. Lawn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present results of in situ fracture tests on extracted human molar teeth showing failure by margin cracking. The teeth are mounted into an epoxy base and loaded with a rod indenter capped with a Teflon insert, as representative of food modulus. In situ observations of cracks extending longitudinally upward from the cervical margins are recorded in real time with a video camera. The cracks appear above some threshold and grow steadily within the enamel coat toward the occlusal surface in a configuration reminiscent of channel-like cracks in brittle films. Substantially higher loading is required to delaminate the enamel from the dentin, attesting to the resilience of the tooth structure. A simplistic fracture mechanics analysis is applied to determine the critical load relation for traversal of the margin crack along the full length of the side wall. The capacity of any given tooth to resist failure by margin cracking is predicted to increase with greater enamel thickness and cuspal radius. Implications in relation to dentistry and evolutionary biology are briefly considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1663-1667
Number of pages5
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Channel cracks
  • Dental enamel
  • Fracture modes
  • Margin cracks
  • Occlusal loading


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