ARCHIVED - Titanium foam fills gap

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July 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

Resembling a screw with the texture of human bone, a porous titanium-foam "root form" created by NRC may soon give solace to North Americans with missing teeth.

Licensed in early 2008 to the Toronto-based firm Biomedical Implant Technologies, the novel metal foam could enter the $2 billion-a-year dental implant market by next year, depending on the pace of regulatory clearance.

According to NRC market research, 70 percent of Americans have at least one missing tooth and more than 18 million have no teeth. Although dental implants are the best treatment option for replacing missing teeth, only 1 percent of potential implant patients have been treated. NRC estimates that titanium foam implants could generate annual sales of $165 million in North America from "back teeth" replacement alone.

The rough surface of a titanium foam implant creates friction between the implant and the bone, allowing bone growth to help fix the implant in place. Better and faster adhesion speeds up healing.
The rough surface of a titanium foam implant creates friction between the implant and the bone, allowing bone growth to help fix the implant in place. Better and faster adhesion speeds up healing.

"We will focus initially on selling titanium foam implants in Canada and the U.S.," says Dr. Mislav Pavelic, a Toronto dental surgeon and President of Biomedical Implant Technologies. "But Europe is quite a large market too. And in China, demand for dental implants is growing at about 25 percent per year."

"NRC's titanium foam looks like a metallic version of bone," he adds. "There is nothing else currently on the dental implant market that matches its porosity — nothing that mimics bone this closely and that would allow bone and titanium to integrate."

Developed at the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) in Boucherville, Quebec, the titanium foam is made by mixing titanium powder with a polymer, and then adding foaming agents that expand the polymer when heated. Later, through a high-temperature heat treatment, the polymer is removed and the titanium particles are consolidated to provide mechanical strength to the porous structure.

The metal foam was originally designed for use in electrodes. "It worked well and we realized this material could be interesting for a wider range of applications, such as biomedical implants," says Louis-Philippe Lefebvre, a powder metallurgy researcher at NRC-IMI. Porous titanium had previously been used in orthopaedic applications, but never for dental implants — although its properties are ideal for this purpose. "The rough surface creates friction between the implant and the bone, and also allows bone growth into the pores to help fix the implant in place," he says.

Among its potential benefits, titanium foam could make dental implants less invasive. Lefebvre explains that in difficult cases, implantation requires a bone graft. "With better friction, you can insert smaller implants into less bone so patients may not need bone graft surgery," he says. "If titanium foam implants can reduce the number of surgeries, they will significantly reduce the average cost of dental implant procedures. Better and faster adhesion of the implant should also speed up healing and the insertion of artificial teeth."

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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