The threat of wear to dental enamel from hard particles of silica or silicates may have exerted great selective pressure on mammals. Increasing the hardness of enamel helps to forestall this, but capacity for variation is small because the tissue is almost entirely composed of hydroxyapatite. Hard though it is, enamel also displays considerable toughness, which is important in setting the sharpness of particles (defined as an attack angle) necessary to wear it. Added to the threat from environmental silica(tes) are phytoliths, particles of opaline silica embedded in plant tissues. We show here that phytoliths have very different properties to grit and dust and are unlikely to wear enamel. However, phytoliths would tend to fracture between teeth under similar conditions, so resembling natural agents of wear. In this context, we suggest that phytoliths could represent an example of mimicry, forming an example of a feeding deterrent operating by deceit.
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