The ability of prisms to effectively dissipate contact stress at the surface will influence wear rates in teeth. The aim of this investigation was to begin to quantify the effect of prism orientation on surface stresses. Seven finite element models of enamel microstructure were created, each model differing in the angulation of prism orientation with regard to the wear surface. For validation purposes, the mechanical behavior of the model was compared with published experimental data. In order to test the enamel under lateral loads, a compressed food particle was dragged across the surface from the dentino-enamel junction (DEJ) towards the outer enamel surface (OES). Under these conditions, tensile stresses in the enamel model increased with increases in the coefficient of friction. More importantly, stresses were found to be lowest in models in which the prisms approach the surface at lower angles (i.e., more obliquely cut prisms), and highest when the prisms approached the surface at 60° (i.e., less obliquely cut). Finally, the direction of travel of the simulated food particle was reversed, allowing comparison of the difference in behavior between trailing and leading edge enamels (i.e., when the food particle was dragged either towards or away from the DEJ). Stresses at the trailing edge were usually lower than stresses at the leading edge. Taken together with what is known about prism orientation in primate teeth, such findings imply greater wear resistance at the intercuspal region and less wear resistance at the lateral enamel at midcrown. Such findings appear to be supported by archeological evidence. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.