Dentinal tubules revealed with X-ray tensor tomography

Christoph Jud, Florian Schaff, Irene Zanette, Johannes Wolf, Andreas Fehringer, Franz Pfeiffer

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Dentin is a mineralized material making up most of the tooth bulk. A system of microtubules, so called dentinal tubules, transverses it radially from the pulp chamber to the outside. This highly oriented structure leads to anisotropic mechanical properties directly connected to the tubules orientation and density: the ultimate tensile strength as well as the fracture toughness and the shear strength are largest perpendicular to dentinal tubules. Consequently, the fatigue strength depends on the direction of dentinal tubules, too. However, none of the existing techniques used to investigate teeth provide access to orientation and density of dentinal tubules for an entire specimen in a non-destructive way. In this paper, we measure a third molar human tooth both with conventional micro-CT and X-ray tensor tomography (XTT). While the achievable resolution in micro-CT is too low to directly resolve the dentinal tubules, we provide strong evidence that the direction and density of dentinal tubules can be indirectly measured by XTT, which exploits small-angle X-ray scattering to retrieve a 3D map of scattering tensors. We show that the mean directions of scattering structures correlate to the orientation of dentinal tubules and that the mean effective scattering strength provides an estimation of the relative density of dentinal tubules. Thus, this method could be applied to investigate the connection between tubule orientation and fatigue or tensile properties of teeth for a full sample without cutting one, non-representative peace of tooth out of the full sample.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1189-1195
Number of pages7
JournalDental Materials
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Dentin
  • Dentinal tubules
  • Tooth
  • X-ray dark-field
  • X-ray grating interferometry
  • X-ray tensor tomography

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