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Introduction to Corrosion of Implants

Implantable materials or biomaterials are utilized to repair, assist or replace living tissue or organs that are functioning below an acceptable level. A wide range of metals and their alloys, polymers, ceramics and composites are used in surgically implanted medical devices and prostheses and dental materials. These are important materials that provide the best dental implantations for patients. Most implanted devices are constructed of more than one kind of materials. Since the early 1900s, metal alloys have been developed for these applications to provide improved physical and chemical properties, such as strength, durability and corrosion resistance.

Major classes of metals used in medical devices and dental materials include stainless steels, cobalt-chromium alloys and titanium (as alloys and unalloyed). In addition, dental casting alloys are based on precious metals (gold, platinum, palladium or silver), nickel and copper and may in some cases contain smaller amounts of many other elements, added to improve the alloys' properties.

Orthopedic applications of metal alloys include arthroplasty, osteosynthesis and in spinal and maxillofacial devices. Metallic alloys are also used for components of prosthetic heart valve replacements, and pacemaker casings and leads. Small metallic parts may be used in a wide range of other implants, including skin and wound staples, vascular endoprostheses, filters and occluders. Dental applications of metals and alloys include fillings, prosthetic devices (crowns, bridges, removable prostheses), dental implants and orthodontic appliances.

In order for these materials to perform successfully, they must have physical properties that allow the material to perform the function for which it was implanted, and the material must be biocompatible. In order for a material to be biocompatible, it must not adversely affect the physiological environment and the environment should not have detrimental affects on the material.

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