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Biomaterials, Zirconia

The modern era is known as "Ceramic Age" due to the increasing assortment of ceramic for industrial and medical use. Ceramic materials developed for medical and dental use are termed "bioceramics." The word “zirconium” comes from the Arabic word “zargon” which means “golden in color.” This meaning, in turn, came from the two Persian words "zar," meaning "gold," and "gun," referring to color. German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth accidentally discovered zirconium dioxide (ZrO2) in 1789. It was later isolated by the Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius in 1824.

ZrO2 is a white crystalline oxide of zirconium found in the minerals baddeleyite and zircon. Zirconium oxide crystals can exist in three phases: (1) the cubic phase (C) which is a square sided straight prism; (2) the tetragonal phase (T) in the form of a rectangular sided straight prism, and (3) the monoclinic phase (M) with a deformed prism with parallelepiped sides. The cubic phase is stable above 2370 degrees Cand with moderate mechanical properties. The tetragonal phase is stable between 1170°C to 2370 °C with improved mechanical properties. The monoclinic phase is stable at room temperature up to 1170°C, with lower mechanical properties, and may contribute to a reduction of the ceramic particles cohesion.

The tetragonal phase can be retained at room temperature by the addition of 3 mol% yttria. Yttria-stabilized tetragonal zirconia polycrystal (Y-TZP) provides mechanical properties superior to other all-ceramic systems due to the tetragonal-to-monoclinic phase transformation. Thus, Y-TZP has been increasingly used as a core material for all-ceramic restorations.

The advances in CAD/CAM technology made the fabrication of stabilized ZrO2 possible, which could not have been processed by traditional laboratory methods. Thus, over the last decade, zirconia technology has resulted in rapid development of metal-free dentistry that may provide high biocompatibility, enhanced aesthetics, and improved material strength. 

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