Titanium, nicknamed the “space age metal,” has many sought-after properties that make it extremely useful to a variety of industries. It can be combined with other metals, like iron, aluminum, vanadium or molybdenum, to create tough lightweight alloys or it may be used by itself. The medical industry depends on titanium for many purposes, from surgical instruments and orthopedic implants to wheelchairs.
The three most useful properties of titanium in medicine are corrosion resistance, low density and strength. Some of the most corrosive agents known, like seawater and chlorine, have no caustic effect on titanium. The ability to withstand such extremely corrosive agents makes titanium useful for surgical applications since body fluids will not corrode it. Titanium is great for orthopedic uses in or outside the body because it is lightweight and strong. Titanium has the highest strength to weight ratio of any metal. Even in its unalloyed form, titanium is comparable in strength to certain steels, but about 45% of their weight.
Titanium’s more unique properties make it useful for orthopedic applications. Titanium is quite ductile, which allows it to be shaped without fracturing. Combined with its lightweight and high strength, the ability to deform titanium like plastic provides amazing applications for orthopedic devices. These devices are often intricately shaped with extreme shock and weight-resistant requirements. In addition, titanium is paramagnetic and does not interfere with medical diagnostic procedures, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It has low electrical and thermal conductivity too, which otherwise may interfere with certain medical procedures.
The human body reacts inertly to titanium, which makes it ideal for surgical use. The body does not reject or become intoxicated when titanium is surgically implanted. It also does not form any intervening connective tissue when titanium is implanted, even if used in bone tissue. Materials, like titanium, that are capable of connecting to bone cells without intervening connective tissue formation are called osseointegrates. This feature of connecting directly to bone tissue allows titanium to be used in many different types of implants, like hip sockets and dental implants.
Medicine uses titanium in an array of applications because it is strong, lightweight, corrosion resistant and paramagnetic and favorably unites with the human body. With the ability to be used from crutches to hip sockets, titanium truly does seem like a “space age metal.