Color changes in modern and fossil teeth induced by synchrotron microtomography



Studies using synchrotron microtomography have shown that this radiographic imaging technique provides highly informative microanatomical data from modern and fossil bones and teeth without the need for physical sectioning. The method is considered to be nondestructive; however, researchers using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility have reported that color changes sometimes occur in teeth during submicron scanning. Using the Advanced Light Source, we tested for color changes during micron-level scanning and for postexposure effects of ultraviolet light. We exposed a 2.0-mm wide strip (band) to synchrotron light in 32 specimens, using multiple energy levels and scan durations. The sample included modern and fossilized teeth and bone. After scanning, the specimens were exposed to fluorescent and direct ultraviolet light. All teeth showed color changes caused by exposure to synchrotron radiation. The resulting color bands varied in intensity but were present even at the lowest energy and shortest duration of exposure. Color bands faded during subsequent exposure to fluorescent and ultraviolet light, but even after extensive ultraviolet exposure, 67% (8/12) of UV-exposed teeth retained some degree of induced color. We found that the hydroxyapatite crystals, rather than the organic component, are the targets of change, and that diagenesis appears to impact color retention. Color changes have significance beyond aesthetics. They are visible indicators of ionization (chemical change) and, therefore, of potential physical damage. It is important for researchers to recognize that synchrotron microtomography may damage specimens, but adopting suitable safeguards and procedures may moderate or eliminate this damage. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:172–180, 2012. © Wiley Periodicals, Inc.