Titanium: The Medical Metal of Choice
The list of titanium benefits is lengthy. This makes it incredibly useful for a number of different industries, including the automotive, aerospace and architectural worlds. But because titanium resists corrosion, is biocompatible and has an innate ability to join with human bone, it has become a staple of the medical field, as well. From surgical titanium instruments to orthopedic titanium rods, pins and plates, medical and dental titanium has truly become the fundamental material used in medicine.
Medical Grade Titanium
Titanium 6AL4V and 6AL4V ELI, alloys made of 6% Aluminum and 4% Vanadium, are the most common types of titanium used in medicine. Because of its harmonizing factor with the human body, these titanium alloys are popularly used in medical procedures, as well as in body piercings. Also known as Gr. 5 and Gr. 23, these are some of the most familiar and readily available types of titanium in the US, with a number of distributors specializing in these specific grades.
Ti-6Al-4V and Ti-6Al-4V ELI offer greater fracture-resistance when used in dental implants. The implant procedure begins with the insertion of a titanium screw into the jaw. The screw resembles and acts like the root of the tooth. After an allotted amount of time has passed for the bone to have grown into the medical grade titanium screw, a fake tooth is connected to the implant.
Benefits of Medical Titanium
- Corrosion Resistant
- Biocompatible (non-toxic AND not rejected by the body)
- Osseointegrated (the joining of bone with artificial implant)
- Long range availability
- Flexibility and elasticity rivals that of human bone
Two of the greatest benefits of titanium are its high strength-to-weight ratio and its corrosion resistance. Couple this with its non-toxic state and its ability to fight all corrosion from bodily fluids and it’s no wonder titanium has become the metal of choice within the field of medicine.
Titanium is also incredibly durable and long-lasting. When titanium cages, rods, plates and pins are inserted into the body, they can last for upwards of 20 years. And dental titanium, such as titanium posts and implants, can last even longer.
Another benefit to titanium for use in medicine is its non-ferromagnetic property, which allows patients with titanium implants to be safely examined with MRIs and NMRIs.
Osseointegration is a unique phenomenon where your body’s natural bone and tissue actually bond to the artificial implant. This firmly anchors the titanium dental or medical implant into place. Titanium is one of the only metals that allows for this integration.
Uses of Medical Titanium
Most all of us know someone who has required orthopedic surgery to replace a failing hip socket, shoulder joint or severely broken bone. It’s very likely medical grade titanium was the material of choice for the surgeons when reconstructing these parts of the body. As evidenced in the previous section, natural titanium properties make it a perfect alloy to be used within the body.
Medical grade titanium is used in producing:
Some of the most common uses for titanium are in hip and knee replacement surgeries. It is also used to replace shoulder and elbow joints and to protect the vertebrae following complicated and invasive back surgery. Titanium pegs are used to attach false eyes and ears and titanium heart valves are even competing with regular tissue valves.
Surgical Titanium Instruments
There are a number of characteristics that make titanium the perfect choice for surgical instrumentation:
- It’s harder than some steel, yet lighter in weight.
- It is bacteria resistant.
- Again, it can be used in conjunction with instruments emitting radiation.
- Titanium is incredibly durable, giving instruments greater longevity.
Because of these great properties, it is used to create a number of titanium surgical devices:
As mentioned earlier, titanium has the ability to fuse together with living bone. This property makes it a huge benefit in the world of dentistry. Titanium dental implants have become the most widely accepted and successfully used type of implant due to its propensity to osseointegrate. When bone forming cells attach themselves to the titanium implant, a structural and functional bridge forms between the body’s bone and the newly implanted, foreign object.
Titanium orthodontic braces are also growing in popularity. They are stronger, more secure and lighter than their steel counterparts. And of course, medical grade titanium’s biocompatibility makes its use in braces even more beneficial than its competing alloys.
Future of Bio-medical Titanium
It is expected that use within the biomedical industry will only continue to grow for titanium in the coming years. With the baby-boomer demographic continuing to age and our health industry pushing for people to live more active lives, it’s only logical that the medical industry will continue researching new and innovative uses for this popular metal alloy. And with health care reform a current major issue, titanium’s cost-efficiency adds even more appeal to those looking to cut health care costs.
About the Author
Craig Schank is Vice President of Sales and Materials for Supra Alloys, Inc., a full-service titanium supplier and processing center headquartered in Camarillo, California with additional locations in Michigan and Connecticut. Craig has long experience in the special metals industry, with a particular interest in medical titanium applications.