• Dental microwear;
  • Enamel microstructure;
  • Abrasion


The anisotropic fracturing and differential wear properties of enamel microstructure represent factors that can obscure the predictive relationship between dental microwear and diet. To assess the impact of enamel structure on microwear, this in vitro experimental study examines the relative contributions to wear of three factors: 1) species differences in microstructure, 2) direction of shearing force relative to enamel prisms and crystallites, and 3) size of abrasive particles. Teeth of Lemur, Ovis, Homo, and Crocodylus, representing, respectively, the structural categories of prismatic patterns 1, 2, and 3 and nonprismatic enamel, were abraded by shearing forces (forces having a component directed parallel to abraded surfaces) and examined by scanning electron microscopy. Striation width increased with particle size for nonprismatic, but not for prismatic, specimens. Direction of shear relative to prism and crystallite orientation had a significant influence on striation width in only some prismatic enamels. The different responses of prismatic and nonprismatic enamels to abrasion reflect the influence of structure, but at the level of organization of crystallites rather than prisms per se. Such interactions explain in part the inability of striation width to discriminate among animals with different dietary habits. Heteroscedasticity and deviations from normality also may confound parametric analyses of microwear variables. Variation in crystallite orientation in prismatic enamels may contribute to optimal dental function through the property of differential wear in functionally distinct regions of teeth.