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Science & Tech

Building a Better Tooth

SDM prof invents material for dental restorations… or body armor


The task seemed so simple: take some conventional ceramic, add composite resin, and—voila!—out pops a hybrid composition that revolutionizes the field of dentistry.

“It looked easy at first,” says Russell Giordano, a Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine associate professor and director of biomaterials. Then he learned that creating a material as hard and durable as a human tooth was anything but simple.

This year, roughly two decades after it all seemed easy, dentists finally began using Giordano’s ceramic and resin composition, called Enamic, to fashion crowns, veneers, and implants. The new material was patented by BU in 1996 and is produced by German porcelain manufacturer VITA Zahnfabrik.

“Enamic heralds a new generation in ceramic materials, in dentistry and beyond,” says Jeffrey Hutter, the Spencer N. Frankl Professor in Dental Medicine and dean of SDM. “The material is the first hybrid dental ceramic in the world and has already changed the landscape of restorative dentistry.”

Giordano says he wanted to create a material that would positively affect patients’ lives and make the work of dentists and laboratory technicians easier. Compared to other materials commonly used in dental procedures, Enamic does not wear or chip easily, retains its color over time, is flexible, and can be adjusted, Giordano says. It also mills quickly in computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems, which are used in 14 percent of dental offices and nearly half of dental labs across the nation, including SDM and the BU Dental Health Center at 930 Commonwealth Ave.

What does all this mean to a patient who needs a crown? Instead of making multiple trips to her dental office for the procedure, she could have her tooth prepped and digitally scanned and a crown milled in-house and fit to her mouth within an hour. Giordano jokes that dentists could even monogram the crown or “write BU on every restoration” using their CAD/CAM systems.

Boston University BU, Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine SDM, associate professor director of biomaterials Russel Giordano, dental restoration, Blocks of Enamic hybrid material

Blocks of Enamic, like the one shown above, are milled in CAD/CAM systems found in dental offices and labs across the country.

“The profession is undergoing a complete transformation due to the introduction of digital dentistry, and we are fortunate to have Dr. Giordano on our faculty,” says Hutter, who named Giordano chair of his Task Force to Implement Digital Dentistry. “He will lead the charge so that soon we will seamlessly integrate digital dentistry into the education we provide our students and the oral health care we provide the patients we have the privilege of treating.”

Giordano could easily have joined his father’s dental practice after completing his prosthodontics degree at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in the late 1980s. Instead, he got hooked on research while studying CAD/CAM materials at MIT’s Ceramics Processing Research Laboratory, where he worked when VITA backed a project to improve the company’s existing ceramics line, VITA MKII.

Giordano taught at Harvard and the University of Illinois at Chicago before joining the SDM faculty in 1992. Several years later, he began working on his ceramic and resin hybrid, designing a process that was so precise that VITA sent a researcher to record every step.

VITA launched Enamic in January at the Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting,  and it sold out in the United States within three weeks. The European launch two months later also met strong sales. Giordano says the company is feverishly expanding its production capacity to meet demand.

Meanwhile, Giordano continues to combine various ceramics and polymers to expand the hybrid’s potential. He thinks the material has broader application than dental offices and envisions countertops, tile, or even body armor as potential uses for his durable, lightweight, and stress-resistant invention.

Whether taking a bite or a bullet, it’s a hybrid built to last.

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Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

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