Crystallographic and Microstructural Studies of Dental Enamel using Synchrotron X-ray Diffraction and Complementary Techniques.
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The complex microstructure and properties of dental enamel have been studied for decades using a variety of quantitative and qualitative techniques in order to gain a greater depth of understanding behind the chemical and physical processes that are associated with the formation and destruction of this biological apatite. Dental enamel is composed of highly ordered carbonated hydroxyapatite crystals which, together with its small organic component, are responsible for its mechanical strength, allowing it to serve its functional purpose. Environmental changes at any stage of the biomineralisation process or post eruption can disrupt the orientation and alter the structure and function, which can have detrimental clinical effects. The aim of this study is to understand and characterise the structural and crystallographic properties of disrupted enamel, and compare this to healthy unaffected tissue. Enamel affected by the genetic disorder, Amelogenesis Imperfecta, alongside enamel disrupted by dissolution and caries were studied using Synchrotron X-ray diffraction, 3D X-ray Microtomography, and Scanning Electron Microscopy techniques to relate these features to the clinically observed characteristics; to the chemistry; and to the known genetics of the tooth. Synchrotron radiation was used to map changes in preferred orientation, while the corresponding mineral density distributions were seen by using an in house developed, non-destructive microtomography system. Structural information on dental enamel at the crystallographic and micron length scales can benefit a variety of different disciplines. This project has the potential to inform early diagnosis, develop a tool for an early recognition of progressive or highly variable medical conditions, and design potential treatment regimes. The comparison of affected enamel to that of healthy enamel will provide a unique opportunity to identify the developmental pathways required for normal tooth development and give insights into the basic principles underlying mammalian biomineralisation.
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