Role and Significance of Restorative Dental Materials
Developments in materials science, robotics, and biomechanics have dramatically changed the way we look at the replacement of components of the human anatomy. In the historical record, we find many approaches to replacing missing tooth structure and whole teeth. The replacement of tooth structure lost to disease and injury continues to be a large part of general dental practice. Restorative dental materials are the foundation for the replacement of tooth structure.
Form and function are important considerations in the replacement of lost tooth structure. Although tooth form and appearance are aspects most easily recognized, function of the teeth and supporting tissues contributes greatly to the quality of life. The links between oral and general health are widely accepted. Proper function of the elements of the oral cavity, including the teeth and soft tissues, is needed for eating, speaking, swallowing, and proper breathing.
Restorative dental materials make the reconstruction of the dental hard tissues possible. In many areas, the development of dental materials has progressed more rapidly than for other anatomical prostheses. Because of their long-term success, patients often expect dental prostheses to outperform the natural materials they replace. The application of materials science is unique in dentistry because of the complexity of the oral cavity, which includes bacteria, high forces, ever changing pH, and a warm, fluid environment. The oral cavity is considered to be the harshest environment for a material in the body. In addition, when dental materials are placed directly into tooth cavities as restorative materials, there are very specific requirements for manipulation of the material. Knowledge of materials science and biomechanics is very important when choosing materials for specific dental applications and when designing the best solution for restoration of tooth structure and replacement of teeth.
Scope of Materials Covered in Restorative Dentistry
Restorative dental materials include representatives from the broad classes of materials: metals, polymers, ceramics, and composites. Dental materials include such items as resin composites, cements, glass ionomers, ceramics, noble and base metals, amalgam alloys, gypsum materials, casting investments, dental waxes, impression materials, denture base resins, and other materials used in restorative procedures. The demands for material characteristics and performance range from high flexibility required by impression materials to high stiffness required in crowns and fixed dental prostheses. Materials for dental implants require integration with bone. Some materials are cast to achieve excellent adaptation to existing tooth structure, whereas others are machined to produce very reproducible dimensions and structured geometries. When describing these materials, physical and chemical characteristics are often used as criteria for comparison. To understand how a material works, we study its chemical structure, its physical and mechanical characteristics, and how it should be manipulated to produce the best performance.
Most restorative materials are characterized by physical, chemical, and mechanical parameters that are derived from test data. Improvements in these characteristics might be attractive in laboratory studies, but the real test is the material’s performance in the mouth and the ability of the material to be manipulated properly by the dental team. In many cases, manipulative errors can negate the technological advances for the material. It is therefore very important for the dental team to understand fundamental materials science and biomechanics to select and manipulate dental materials appropriately.
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