Defects present in 12 human permanent teeth were classified on the basis of their macroscopic appearance as hypoplasia (three teeth), diffuse opacities (three teeth), white demarcated opacities (one tooth but two defects), or yellow demarcated opacities (five teeth but six defects). The hardness values and SEM appearance of the defective enamel were determined after the teeth were sectioned through the lesion(s) and were distinctive for each type of defect. The thin enamel of the hypoplastic lesions was either opaque (with reduced hardness values) or translucent (with near-normal hardness values and sometimes a change in prism orientation external to an incremental line). The enamel of the diffuse and demarcated opacities was of normal thickness. The changes in the macroscopic and SEM appearance, and the reduced hardness values of the diffuse patchy opacities, were restricted to the outer 150 microns of the enamel. The demarcated opacities varied in position and depth, and in places had a clearly marked boundary with the adjacent normal enamel. Hardness values were related to color change, with yellow lesions being softer than white. Although prism direction was normal within demarcated opacities, prism outlines were less distinct. The findings suggest that temporary and permanent dysfunction of ameloblasts can occur in both secretory and maturation phases, influencing the final appearance of the lesion.