Scanning Microscopy


Mature enamel is the most mineralized of mammalian tissues, contains the least water and therefore does not present problems of shrinkage on preparation for SEM. However, the developing enamel is highly hydrated and presents severe problems in preparation.

The structure of enamel is determined by the activity of its individual formative cells and their group behaviour. The peculiar, unequal secretion of matrix at the distal pole of the ameloblast leads to the presence of characteristically shaped pits in the surface of the formative tissue. Crystals grow in a special relationship to this surface. Sharp changes in orientation of the surface are reflected in abrupt changes in orientation of neighbouring crystals beneath it, leading to the formation of structural discontinuities at prism boundaries or junctions. Several different patterns of prism cross section have arisen in mammalian enamel. Inequalities in the rate of production of the tissue lead to the formation of features known as varicosities or cross striations. Exaggerations of this presumed daily incremental rhythm lead to the formation of the more major incremental lines which can also be visualized by scanning electron microscopy. Differences in the course of the ameloblasts throughout their life history, in the nature of a translatory motion over the surface which they are secreting, lead to the development of prism decussation, which shows characteristic patterns in different mammalian groups of probable functional significance. One largely ignored area in the study of comparative histology concerns the enamel-dentine junction. Particularly in the marsupial mammals, dentine tubules cross the junction and are continuous with enamel tubules. Methacrylate casting of these features has given new insights into these structures.

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