ARCHIVED - Dental Porous Titanium Foam Implants: An Idea with Bite

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July 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

Prototype of porous Titanium attachment systems for dental implant
Prototype of porous Titanium attachment systems for dental implant

More than two out of three Canadians currently have a missing tooth. It's a gap that you'd think would be perfectly filled by high-tech solid titanium dental implants. Currently, however, only about one in a hundred gets a titanium implant. Most of us get by with dentures or bridges because of the current expense, discomfort and technical difficulty associated with dental implants.

But new porous titanium foam dental implants being developed at the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) in Longueuil, Quebec, have the potential to transform the way we replace lost or damaged teeth, and in the process take a major bite out of the billion-dollar dental implant market.

The team working on getting this technology from lab to the dentist's office recently won one of NRC's Business Case Challenge 2005 prizes.

"Our porous titanium foam implants will be more effective than any dental implants commercially available today," says Dr. Louis-Phillipe Lefebvre, a materials scientist and the project's leader. The team is currently in discussions with several potential partners for the commercialization of the technology.

Dental implants are pieces of the metal titanium that are surgically inserted into the jaw bone to take the place of the tooth's root, and then capped with a ceramic tooth. Titanium is the metal of choice for this purpose because it's biocompatible — it doesn't trigger the body's immune response system.

However, while 95 per cent of these implants are presently successful, there are some major shortfalls.

X-Ray of skull showing teeth and jaw
X-Ray of skull showing teeth and jaw

Patients must wait up to four months before bone has grown around the implant, anchoring it to the jaw and enabling the ceramic tooth to be fitted onto it. Also, current implants can only be inserted into the front of the jaw, where there's more bone available to anchor the implant.

Enter the porous titanium implant, which is created by a unique NRC-developed metallic foam creation process. Unlike current solid titanium implants, the NRC-IMI material is porous, much the same as a sponge, and more importantly in this case, bone. This provides a site for bone cells to grow into the implant and more solidly anchor it. This new porous yet durable material facilitates the creation of smaller implants that can be used in the back of the jaw. In addition, in some cases its use will avoid the need for the patient to have a bone graft, making the surgery simpler, faster and cheaper.

"This opens a totally new area for dentistry and represents an important new niche market for these porous implants," says NRC-IMI Business Development Officer Blaise Labrecque. Labrecque believes that once dentists see how effective the porous titanium implants are in the back of the mouth — including quicker healing — they'll also use them for replacing front teeth as well.

This summer and fall the NRC-IMI team working to commercialize the porous titanium implants is conducting tests to conclusively demonstrate how well bone grows into a titanium foam implant.

The results of these tests will be an important advance in getting the implants into the mouths of Canadians. Implants are the fastest growing area of dentistry. The worldwide dental implant market it estimated at $1.2 billion (U.S.) and growing at 15 per cent annually.

The NRC-IMI team members say that what's most exciting about their titanium foam technology is that it's a platform technology with numerous applications. The group is already collaborating with a major orthopaedic (hip joints, knees, etc.) implant manufacturer. For Lefebvre, getting into dentists' office will be an important and high profile first step in creating positive word-of-mouth about the innovative material.

"People readily imagine new applications when they see the material," says Dr. Lefebvre. "This means they can participate in the innovation and the dream."

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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