In situ monitoring and analysis of enamel demineralisation using synchrotron X-ray scattering

Tan Sui, Enrico Salvati, Robert Harper, Hongjia Zhang, Richard Shelton, Gabriel Landini, Alexander M. Korsunsky

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7 Citations (Scopus)
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Dental caries is one of the most common chronic diseases that affect human teeth. It often initiates in enamel, undermining its mechanical function and structural integrity. Little is known about the enamel demineralisation process caused by dental caries in terms of the microstructural changes and crystallography of the inorganic mineral phase. To improve the understanding of the carious lesion formation process and to help identify efficient treatments, the evolution of the microstructure at the nano-scale in an artificially induced enamel erosion region was probed using advanced synchrotron small-angle and wide-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS and WAXS). This is the first in vitro and time-resolved investigation of enamel demineralisation using synchrotron X-ray techniques which allows in situ quantification of the microstructure evolution over time in a simulated carious lesion. The analysis revealed that alongside the reduction of mineral volume, a heterogeneous evolution of hydroxyapatite (HAp) crystallites (in terms of size, preferred orientation and degree of alignment) could be observed. It was also found that the rate and direction of dissolution depends on the crystallographic orientation. Based on these findings, a novel conceptual view of the process is put forward that describes the key structural parameters in establishing high fidelity ultrastructure-based numerical models for the simulation of the enamel demineralisation process.

Statement of significance: Hydroxyapatite (HAp) crystallites in the enamel dissolve during dental caries although little is known about the structural-chemical relationships that control the dynamic demineralisation process. For the first time this work investigated the in situ evolution of nano-scale morphology and the spatial distribution of ultrastructural HAp crystallites of human enamel during demineralisation in simulated caries. Advanced synchrotron SAXS and WAXS techniques showed that the heterogeneous evolution of crystallites (size, preferred orientation and degree of alignment) could be attributed to crystallographic-orientation-dependent anisotropic dissolution. Hence we propose a novel conceptual schematic diagram to describe the demineralisation process. These findings have important implications for understanding the detailed mechanisms of enamel demineralisation and provide insight into potential enamel remineralisation that could restore structural integrity and function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-341
Number of pages9
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Early online date17 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • dental caries
  • dental demineralisation
  • enamel
  • SAXS
  • WAXS
  • in situ analysis


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