A brief history of a great invention
Have you ever wondered how long ceramics have been used in dental laboratory technology? What are some of the innovation milestones in the history of dental ceramics? And why do we have different types of ceramics (metal-based ceramics and all-ceramics)? Read on, to find out how dental ceramics have evolved since their beginnings and what kind of trends are emerging for the future.
The use of ceramics in dentistry dates back to the 19th century. The dental ceramics that are routinely used today, including metal-based and metal-free ceramics, layering and press ceramics and manually (analog) and digitally processed ceramics, developed and established themselves at different stages in the ceramics timeline.
1950s to 1960s: The beginnings
The first commercially available ceramics did not require metal support. They were used to fabricate the traditional porcelain “jacket” crown. During the 1960s, various metal-based ceramics were introduced to the market. These materials were available in only a small range of shades, which limited their applications. At that time, the establishment of a sound bond between the metal and ceramic materials took priority.
1970s: Advanced materials
In the 1970s development efforts focused on creating more natural-looking and individualized dental restorations. A wide selection of colours for characterizing restorations was introduced during those years. Special layering schemes were developed to produce the best results. The dental industry offered a growing variety of layering materials. The main objective was to imitate nature as closely as possible.
1980s and 1990s: Important innovations
Initially, metal-based ceramic was the number one veneering material. Then, in the 1990s dental manufacturers introduced low-fusing ceramics to the market. These ceramics offered the advantage of shorter firing cycles on gold frameworks in a high CTE range.
The first pressable ceramics entered the market in 1991. This was the advent of “metal-free” restorations. Over the years, the process of pressing ceramics would become very popular. In 1998, several innovations were launched. The first generation of lithium disilicate ceramics opened up new indications and applications for the ceramic press technique. In addition, a new type of crystal was discovered which was capable of closely imitating the natural tooth structure. The crystal structure of fluorapatite also imparted a new level of brightness to the restorations. Since their introduction, fluorapatite glass-ceramics have been delivering highly esthetic, true-to-nature results. At the same time, pressable ceramics began to establish themselves on the market. Like metal-based ceramics, pressed ceramics were initially used only for single tooth restorations.
2000 to 2015: Pressing, milling, cutting and the trend to monolithic restorations
Digital techniques for processing dental ceramics started entering dental practices in the mid 1980s. In dental laboratories, the trend towards digital procedures manifested itself around the year 2000. Since then this technology has made considerable inroads in dental laboratories, so that nowadays digitally manufactured restorations such as those made with press ceramics are considered to be state of the art. The interest in digital processing of high-performance ceramics, such as zirconium oxide, to produce frameworks and monolithic restorations has grown quite considerably over the past few years. Due to the fact that zirconium oxide has now become available in various translucency levels, it can now also be used to achieve esthetic results.
Following on from the innovations introduced in the 1990s, the trend-setting all-ceramic IPS e.max system was launched in 2005. The material has set new standards in dental ceramics in terms of its optical and mechanical properties. It is the first modular, fully integrated all-ceramic system of its kind on the market. It includes highly esthetic, high-strength materials for the press and CAD/CAM techniques and it covers the entire spectrum of dental restorations, ranging from single tooth restorations to long-span bridges. A broad range of translucency levels is available to accommodate the individual needs of patients and the preferred working techniques of dental professionals. Since the system’s introduction, IPS e.max has clinically proved itself a million times over. Therefore, it is not surprising that the IPS e.max system and by extension lithium disilicate glass-ceramics have become exceedingly popular. What is more, press ceramics, which have been around for almost 25 years, are now also available in the form of pressable multi-coloured ingots for highly esthetic monolithic restorations.
Looking ahead: We are in for an exciting time!
Both types of ceramics, metal-based ceramics and all-ceramics, have firmly established themselves in dentistry and they are an indispensible part of the today’s laboratory routine. Their development cycles tend to alternate. Therefore, we eagerly await the next innovations in dental ceramics. They are bound to be exciting!
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