Today’s article looks at one of the miracles of modern dentistry: the dental restoration.
Let’s pretend you are a biomedical engineer working in the field of dentistry before the introduction of dental restorations. The men and women of your generation who have missing or damaged teeth want to repair or replace them with a man-made substitute. You have been hired to find or create a material that can be used to fabricate fillings, crowns, and dental bridges.
Consider the several physical and chemical requirements of this incredible material. It must withstand forces of 162 pounds per square inch (PSI), hundreds of times a day–day after day, year after year. It must be resistant to cracking and chipping. But there’s a catch regarding its strength; it must not damage the enamel on opposing teeth. This material must also maintain its size and shape and be resistant to shrinking.
It must be bondable to living tooth structure as well as other materials necessary for specific appliances. It must be biocompatible with the soft tissues in the mouth as well as tooth enamel, dentin, and bone. It can’t create allergic reactions in the wearers. It must be corrosion-resistant to the chemicals in saliva, foods, and beverages. It must resist infection regardless of ever-present bacteria in the mouth. And it can’t contain toxic chemicals that could be absorbed into the bloodstream.
And we haven’t even discussed the cosmetic properties yet. Ideally, this extraordinary material would match perfectly with genuine teeth in color, opacity, and translucence.
Of course, we know that such an item exists because dental restorations have been around for a long time. At this time, there are numerous materials used alone or in combination including porcelain, ceramic, and metals such as gold and silver amalgam. Though the metals are immensely strong and malleable, they don’t meet some patients’ esthetic requirements and are used mainly for back teeth.
It is interesting to note that porcelain, one of the ideal materials used in modern restorations, was created over 2,000 years ago in China.
I wonder if the ancient Chinese porcelain founders who developed the techniques for molding, firing, and painting the beautiful tableware and vases valued around the world ever imagined that their invention would live beautifully in the mouths of millions of people more than twenty centuries later!
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