Molecular mechanisms of dental enamel formation

Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 1995;6(2):84-108. doi: 10.1177/10454411950060020701.


Tooth enamel is a unique mineralized tissue in that it is acellular, is more highly mineralized, and is comprised of individual crystallites that are larger and more oriented than other mineralized tissues. Dental enamel forms by matrix-mediated biomineralization. Enamel crystallites precipitate from a supersaturated solution within a well-delineated biological compartment. Mature enamel crystallites are comprised of non-stoichiometric carbonated calcium hydroxyapatite. The earliest crystallites appear suddenly at the dentino-enamel junction (DEJ) as rapidly growing thin ribbons. The shape and growth patterns of these crystallites can be interpreted as evidence for a precursor phase of octacalcium phosphate (OCP). An OCP crystal displays on its (100) face a surface that may act as a template for hydroxyapatite (OHAp) precipitation. Octacalcium phosphate is less stable than hydroxyapatite and can hydrolyze to OHAp. During this process, one unit cell of octacalcium phosphate is converted into two unit cells of hydroxyapatite. During the precipitation of the mineral phase, the degree of saturation of the enamel fluid is regulated. Proteins in the enamel matrix may buffer calcium and hydrogen ion concentrations as a strategy to preclude the precipitation of competing calcium phosphate solid phases. Tuftelin is an acidic enamel protein that concentrates at the DEJ and may participate in the nucleation of enamel crystals. Other enamel proteins may regulate crystal habit by binding to specific faces of the mineral and inhibiting growth. Structural analyses of recombinant amelogenin are consistent with a functional role in establishing and maintaining the spacing between enamel crystallites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amelogenesis*
  • Amelogenin
  • Calcium Phosphates / metabolism
  • Carbonates / metabolism
  • Chemical Precipitation
  • Crystallization
  • Crystallography
  • Dental Enamel / embryology*
  • Dental Enamel / metabolism
  • Dental Enamel Proteins / metabolism
  • Durapatite / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Biology
  • Tooth Calcification


  • Amelogenin
  • Calcium Phosphates
  • Carbonates
  • Dental Enamel Proteins
  • tuftelin
  • octacalcium phosphate
  • Durapatite