Today’s message 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 inception 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 manufacture white fillings, crowns, and dental bridges.
Consider the physical and chemical requirements of this incredible item. It must tolerate 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 stability; 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 required 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 talked about the artistic properties yet. Ideally, this wondrous material would look exactly like real-life teeth in color, opacity, and translucence.
Of course, we know that such a material exists because dental restorations have been around for a long time. Presently, there are multiple materials used alone or in combination including porcelain, ceramic, and metals such as gold and silver amalgam. Though the metals are uncommonly strong and malleable, they don’t meet some patient’s 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 developed over 2000 years ago in China.
I wonder if the ancient Chinese porcelain inventors who developed the techniques for molding, firing, and painting the beautiful tableware and vases highly regarded around the world ever imagined that their invention would live beautifully in the mouths of millions of individuals more than twenty centuries later!