Fracture modes in human teeth

J. J.W. Lee, J. Y. Kwon, H. Chai, P. W. Lucas, V. P. Thompson, B. R. Lawn

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The structural integrity of teeth under stress is vital to functional longevity. We tested the hypothesis that this integrity is limited by fracture of the enamel. Experiments were conducted on molar teeth, with a metal rod loaded onto individual cusps. Fracture during testing was tracked with a video camera. Two longitudinal modes of cracking were observed: median cracking from the contact zone, and margin cracking along side walls. Median cracks initiated from plastic damage at the contact site, at first growing slowly and then accelerating to the tooth margin. Margin cracks appeared to originate from the cemento-enamel junction, and traversed the tooth wall adjacent to the loaded cusp from the gingival to the occlusal surface. All cracks remained confined within the enamel shell up to about 550 N. At higher loads, additional crack modes - such as enamel chipping and delamination - began to manifest themselves, leading to more comprehensive failure of the tooth structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-228
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Dental Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009


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


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