When many of us hear the word “titanium”, we may think of the latest and greatest golf club or tennis racket. What is not widely recognized amongst the general public however, is how important a role titanium has played in revolutionizing modern day dentistry.
Whereas stainless steel and gold alloys were once utilized for most dental procedures, titanium is often now the material of choice and it’s producing amazing results! This metal has a special connection to our country, as Canada is the number three producer of titanium in the world! Only Australia and South Africa produce more.
Titanium’s successful use in dental implants announced to the world in Toronto
While studying blood circulation in the bone of rabbits, Swedish Professor Ingvar Brånemark accidentally discovered that bone would adhere to titanium, actually forming a type of bond to the outer surface of the metal. This effect of osseo-integration was evidence of the superior biocompatibility of titanium. Brånemark took decades to shape his discovery into the world’s first effective dental implant. He announced his irrefutable results to the world in 1982 and dentists and their patients have never looked back.
Before this discovery, and throughout human history, dental research has sought ways to replace teeth lost by disease or trauma. Longevity had been a problem for all proposed solutions. Both fixed bridges and removable dentures inevitably led to situations that resulted in more teeth being lost. For decades before the advent of titanium use, the replacement of teeth with artificial implants ended up in disaster. Now with the use of titanium, implants are not only offering excellent long-term solutions for the replacement of missing teeth, but they are also effective in improving the longevity of neighbouring teeth as well. Titanium has changed the game forever!
Niti profoundly changes orthodontics
A very special alloy of titanium called nitinol, niti or nickle-titanium was first discovered by the US military in 1962, however it was too expensive to produce until the 1990s. Interestingly, Canada is the number two supplier of nickel to the world, so our nation has quite a stake in the use of this amazing material. Nickle-titanium has two unique properties that make it ideal for various medical procedures: shape memory and superelasticity. Shape memory means that it goes from a super bendable and soft state to a more rigid state as it warms up to body temperature. Superelasticity means that it can be twisted and bent around curves a lot more easily than most metals without losing its shape or properties. These attributes make it the world’s most effective wire for moving teeth.
Because the wire puts even, steady forces on teeth, they can be moved faster with less force than what was exerted in the past by traditional stainless steel wires. Using niti wires, there is far less discomfort. And because these wires are loose and flexible when cold, they are easier to manipulate and take less time for the dentist to place in a patient’s mouth, thereby making orthodontic appointments go much easier and faster than they once did.
Better root canal treatments in a fraction of the time
Root canal treatment had traditionally been done utilizing rather inflexible hand-operated stainless steel instruments. While these instruments were of course specifically designed for root canal procedures, they still tended to straighten and deform root canals, which usually have varying degrees of curvature. An analogy that comes to mind is that it was like trying to drive a bus around a tight curve, when what would have really handled the road better was a small sports car. Well, motor-driven nickel-titanium root canal files saved the day. These wonderful instruments easily bend in root canal treatments, doing a superb and faster job of cleaning and shaping tooth canals.
Steven Deskin is a Dentist in general practice.