Technical Ceramics Empower Medical and Dental Advancements
Advanced ceramics offer a cost-effective and high-performance substitute to traditional materials such as metals and plastics.
In many ways, material science is driving enormous and exciting change for the medical community. Technical advancements, new applications, and product innovations are empowering industry growth and influencing new global market trends. Novel biocompatible materials for sensors, delivery systems, imaging, and screening devices mean that companies are identifying new ways of improving disease detection and treatment. The full spectrum of ceramic materials (e.g., nitrides, oxides and carbides) are increasingly used in these extremely demanding environments and are at the cutting edge of some of the latest industry advancements.
Reports in 2011 estimated the global medical ceramics market at $10.4 billion and predicted it would reach $13.1 billion by 2017.1 Growth has shown no sign of abating, as market reports continue to demonstrate this upward trend.2 Advanced ceramics offer a cost-effective and high-performance substitute to traditional materials such as metals and plastics. A large part of this development in the medical sector is implantable applications such as artificial joints, electronic sensors and drug delivery devices. Much development is also ongoing in the use of ceramics for dental implants.
Modern manufacturing has created phenomenal production output capabilities that demand repeatable performance, long life and sterility in the production process. One example of a modern automated process is volumetric filling systems, which fill containers and vials of drugs and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.
When glass ampules are being filled with drugs, pumps and pistons are used to measure a defined amount of liquid into the container. Ceramics play a vital role in this machinery due to their longer life compared to alternative materials, such as steel. The friction between the piston and the body of the pump can result in wear, which, over a long life span, could result in powders or particulates breaking off if using metal on metal. These could contaminate a whole production line, potentially resulting in huge financial losses for the manufacturer.
For this reason, advanced ceramics are a popular choice for manufacturers due to their hard wearing and inert properties if they come in direct contact with drugs. In addition, ceramics are a suitable material for the medical industry since they are easy to clean and keep sterile.
Whether feldspathic or aluminous porcelain, dental porcelain used for crowns and incisors has been the traditional application of ceramics in dentistry. Ceramics also have a well-established role in root canals as the material that bonds to the jawbone and holds the peg, which attaches to a crown.
Europe is leading the global dental implant market with the largest share (41%), at an estimated $1.7 billion in 2011.3 The market offers tremendous growth potential, mainly due to the increasing demand, purchasing power, and consumer acceptance of advanced dental technologies in developing Asian and South American nations.
The trend toward high-performance technical materials being used in dental procedures is another factor in the growth of the dental implants market, as they are robust and proven materials. The introduction of computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technology has also drastically reduced treatment time and cost.
The testing of dental drill bits is another innovative application that one manufacturer has used ceramics for. Looking for a material that had similar properties to dentine (which is naturally found inside teeth) and could be machined to high accuracy, the manufacturer selected MACOR® machinable glass ceramic. The material made it possible for the manufacturer to determine the optimum lifecycle in accordance with different drill bit shapes.
Ceramics have also made inroads in blood dialysis equipment. Dialysis equipment and accessories are used for the artificial blood purification of end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients, as well as acute kidney injury (AKI) patients. The global market for these products was worth $13.4 billion in 2013 and is expected to grow to $18.8 billion in 2018 due to the rising need for renal replacement and dialysis.4
Ceramics are used within the pumping systems of blood dialysis machines due to their performance as an inert material. It is the same material that is widely used in hip joint replacements. In addition to implant surgery and diagnostics, composites continue to gain recognition as a strong choice in prosthetics for artificial limbs and joints.
One of today’s fastest-growing medical markets is for cosmetic treatments. According to the International Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgeons (ISAPS), more than 23 million cosmetic procedures (surgical and non-surgical) were performed worldwide in 2013.5 Within cosmetics, light-based hair removal (LHR) is one of the fastest-growing, nonsurgical aesthetic cosmetic procedures in the U.S. and Europe. IPL (intense pulsed light) machines are used for a variety of dermatology applications involving broad-spectrum intense pulsed light (IPL; 590-1,200 nm). It is commonly used in the treatment of acne scars, rosacea, removing tattoos, scar removal and permanent hair removal.
Since the machine is handheld, certain ceramics are highly suitable due to their low density and capacity to act as an effective thermal barrier (see Figure 1). To create the light needed for the treatment, energy is absorbed by a coil enclosed in the main chamber of the machine. Multiple wavelengths are produced, with a specified amount of energy travelling from the device in the form of intense pulses of non-coherent light. A byproduct of generating light is heat. To ensure that the heat from the coil does not melt or heat the casing and potentially cause harm to the user, a ceramic that is a good electrical insulator is placed in the device to prevent electrical and thermal transfer. Across the globe, manufacturers improve the efficiency of their devices by adopting MACOR glass ceramics to act as an electrical insulator and reduce thermal transfer.
Advanced ceramics are leading a new generation of medical and dental innovations worldwide. Their ability to offer cost-effective and yet high-performance benefits makes them an exciting material for multiple applications across a broad range of industries.
1. “World’s Medical Ceramics Market Pegged at $10B+,” American Ceramic Society, http://ceramics.org.
2. “Global Medical Composite Materials Market 2014-2018,” ReportBuyer, www.reportbuyer.com.
3. “Dental Implants and Prosthetics Market by Material (Titanium, Zirconium, PFM, All Ceramics), Stage (Two Stage, Single Stage), Connectors (External hexagonal) and Product Type (Crowns, Bridges, Dentures, Abutments)-Global Forecast to 2020,” Markets and Markets, www.marketsandmarkets.com.
4. “Renal Dialysis Equipment: Technologies and Global Markets,” Report Buyer, www.reportbuyer.com.
5. “Cosmetic Implants Market-Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2014-2020,” Markets and Markets, www.marketsandmarkets.com.