What are dental implants made out of?

Metal Titanium Used in Dentistry

The metal titanium is an abundant element in Earth's crust, first discovered by the amateur geologist Reverend William Gregor in England in 1791. Gregor found a black, magnetic sand resembling gunpowder in a stream in the parish of Mannacan in Cornwall, which we now call ilmenite, a mixture consisting predominantly of the oxides of iron and titanium. After analysing the sand, Gregor was convinced he had discovered a new metal, and called it manaccanite, named in honor of the parish of Mannacan. Little did he know how significant and world changing the discovery was.

Gregor returned to his pastoral duties and nothing more happened until 1795. In that year, the German chemist Martin Klaproth found a substance in the mineral rutile, from Boinik, Hungary that matched the description of what McGregor had reported on four years earlier. Martin Klaproth was thrilled at discovering this new metallic element and called it titanium, after the Titans, the sons of the Earth goddess in Greek mythology.

Although, Gregor was credited with the initial discovery, the name manaccanite was not used, instead scientists officially adopted Klaproth's name 'titanium'. It wasn't until 119 years from the time of the initial discovery, that scientists were able to isolate titanium in its pure form and by 1956 scientists had then realised titanium’s unique properties that made it so highly desirable.

Raw Titanium Deposits

In its pure form, titanium is a light, silvery-white, hard, lustrous metal, but in nature it is always bonded to other elements such as ilmenite (FeTiO3) or rutile (TiO2) and needs to be purified after mining. Titanium deposits are mined throughout the world and extracted from the minerals rutile and ilmenite, the two primary minerals which contain titanium. These minerals make up 24% of the earth’s crust which makes titanium the ninth most abundant element on the planet. In 2013, the leading titanium concentrates producers were:

Countries that Mine Titanium

Block of Titanium for Dental Implants

  1. Australia (1.39 million tonnes)
  2. South Africa (1.22 million tonnes)
  3. China (950 thousand tonnes)
  4. Canada (770 thousand tonnes)
  5. India (366 thousand tonnes)
  6. US (300 thousand tonnes)

It is estimated that approximately 95% of titanium is consumed in the form of titanium dioxide (TiO2), a white pigment used in paints, paper and plastics. Titanium dioxide possesses unique opacity and brightness properties that is used to impart whiteness and helps to increase the opacity, and reduce the transparency products such as paint, cosmetics, and personal care products.

As a metal, it exhibits a high strength to weight ratio, high temperature properties, has excellent strength and corrosion resistance. Some researchers have stated that "Titanium’s corrosion rate is so low that after 4000 years in seawater, corrosion would only have penetrated the metal to the thickness of a thin sheet of paper". These properties have seen titanium being used in the aerospace industry as airplane parts and fasteners.

These same properties make titanium useful for the production of gas turbine engines, compressor blades, casings, engine cowlings and heat shields. It is also in ocean engineering in submarines, atomic icebreakers, hydrofoils, hovercrafts, minesweepers and propellers.

In the medical world titanium is used in the production of medical instruments and prosthetic components in artificial valves in the heart, stents in blood vessels, replacement implants in hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, ears or dental structures.

In today's dental industry, titanium's ability to "fuse" with living bone makes this precious metal the best choice for dental implants. From the first implants placed by Professor Per-Ingvar Brånemark in the 1960's to currently, it is estimated to be half a million implants placed annually.
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