Dental enamel formation and implications for oral health and disease

Rodrigo S. Lacruz, Stefan Habelitz, J. Timothy Wright, Michael L. Paine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dental enamel is the hardest and most mineralized tissue in extinct and extant vertebrate species and provides maximum durability that allows teeth to function as weapons and/or tools as well as for food processing. Enamel development and mineralization is an intricate process tightly regulated by cells of the enamel organ called ameloblasts. These heavily polarized cells form a monolayer around the developing enamel tissue and move as a single forming front in specified directions as they lay down a proteinaceous matrix that serves as a template for crystal growth. Ameloblasts maintain intercellular connections creating a semi-permeable barrier that at one end (basal/proximal) receives nutrients and ions from blood vessels, and at the opposite end (secretory/apical/distal) forms extracellular crystals within specified pH conditions. In this unique environment, ameloblasts orchestrate crystal growth via multiple cellular activities including modulating the transport of minerals and ions, pH regulation, proteolysis, and endocytosis. In many vertebrates, the bulk of the enamel tissue volume is first formed and subsequently mineralized by these same cells as they retransform their morphology and function. Cell death by apoptosis and regression are the fates of many ameloblasts following enamel maturation, and what cells remain of the enamel organ are shed during tooth eruption, or are incorporated into the tooth’s epithelial attachment to the oral gingiva. In this review, we examine key aspects of dental enamel formation, from its developmental genesis to the ever-increasing wealth of data on the mechanisms mediating ionic transport, as well as the clinical outcomes resulting from abnormal ameloblast function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)939-993
Number of pages55
JournalPhysiological Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology (medical)


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