Many of the materials that we use on a daily basis at Conroy &MacGilpin Orthodontics, to help move teeth and create beautiful smiles, have their roots in aviation science.Titanium brackets, nickel titanium archwires and springs, Beta titanium arch wires and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) thermoplastic used for retainers are just a few of the materials that help us do our job.
Titanium (Ti) is a pretty special element. Corrosion resistant and possessing the highest strength to density ratio of any metal, it is as strong as steel but is only about half the weight. First identified in 1791 it wasn’t until the Cold War that the US and Soviets began using it in high performance jets (F-100 Super Sabre and Lockheed A-12) and submarines (Alfa Class andMike Class).
Titanium BracketsSince then titanium has been found to have a lot of other uses! In fact we use titanium brackets quite often. One of the benefits of titanium is that is biocompatible, meaning it is non-toxic and hypoallergenic. This makes it an excellent bracket material for patients allergic to nickel.
We also use a number of titanium alloys including nickel titanium and Beta titanium. These too are thanks to aerospace engineers!
Nickel Titanium ArchwiresNickel titanium (Niti) was discovered by the US Naval Ordinance Laboratories while working on the Polaris Missile and was first used in the F-14 Topcat (think Top Gun). What’s really cool about Niti is its shape memory, meaning it can be bent and will spring back to its original shape! When used as an archwire, this property of Niti allows us to move teeth gently and efficiently with fewer appointments necessary.
Beta Titanium/TMA ArchwiresThe first commercial use of Beta Titanium was in the SR-71 Blackbird, a spy plane equipped with engines built by Pratt & Whitney and capable of flying at speeds greater than 3X the speed of sound!!! With a top speed of 2,200 mph the Blackbird had to withstand incredible heat caused by the pressure of air across its surface. Not only was Beta titanium tough enough for the Blackbird but it was found to have good shape memory, formability and could be welded. Turns out these qualities make for an excellent archwire, especially in the final or finishing stages of orthodontic treatment.
PMMA RetainersHave you ever wondered what our retainers are made out of? Well the same material we use to make our retainers, known as polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), started off in the cockpits of World War II bombers and submarine periscopes! Since then PMMA can be found in everything from retainers to headlights to aquariums.
Thanks to high tech materials developed by the aerospace industry, orthodontics has come a long way from the heavy, rigid archwires we once used. With fewer appointments and lighter forces we’re able to move teeth more effectively and comfortably than ever before.
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