Monday, September 28, 2015

Medical Mondays: I Am Titanium

(That's one of my favorite songs, by the way.)

Today, we've got a question from a friend and author, Elle Cosimano. She's the author of the YA thrillers Nearly Gone, the sequel Nearly Found, and the upcoming Holding Smoke.

Coming May 3, 2016 from Hyperion
Elle asked: Do hospitals still use metal plates for reconstructive surgery, or do they use some other type of material? Assuming his skull was damaged [during an assault], is it reasonable to mention that he had metal plates in his head?

The short answer? Yes.

Here's the longer answer. In a situation where someone had enough trauma to the skull to warrant surgery, it's possible that they would need titanium implants during the surgery. In one scenario, only titanium screws and thin, narrow plates would be used to put broken pieces of skull together. In a situation where the skull injury is too large to be covered by native skull pieces, a larger piece of plating or mesh might be used.

Photo Credit
I sort of have a fondness for titanium, so here are some more thoughts.

Why is titanium used in medical implants? Titanium is an inert metal that is biocompatible with the human body, so rejection isn't an issue. It's also able to osseointegrate, meaning that bone can grow right up to that metal, without having scar tissue in between.

Do they have to stay there forever? For the above scenario, yes. For things like artificial joints, those tend to have a more limited life span of 15-20 years (or more) due to the wear and tear of the components of the actual socket. Other life span factors include the health of the patient, bone health, and activity levels.

Will the patient stick to an MRI machine, or a giant junk yard magnet?
No. Titanium is non-ferromagnetic, so MRIs are safe (however, if it's near the area being examined, the implant can cause blurring or streaks, called "artifact," of the images.)

How about metal detectors? Depending on the detector or screening tool at the airport/school/building, titanium implants could set off an alarm.

Other bodily uses? Titanium dioxide, which is the most common form of titanium found naturally, is also the white stuff used in physical sunblocks. Lots of body piercing jewelry is also made with implant grade titanium.

I need to impress my friends. Really? Well okay, if you insist. Melting titanium will explode on contact with water. Also, in titanium polluted soil, Scotch Bonnet mushrooms will bio-decontaminate the soil. There you go.

On that note, here's a link to David Guetta and Sia's song, Titanium. Because it was in your head anyway, right? ;)


Natalie Aguirre said...

Interesting how doctors are able to use metal components to fix the skull and other broken bones. It really is amazing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I always wondered what kind of metal they used. Now I know!

Deb Salisbury said...

I'd wondered if doctors went back in and took out the plates.

A very interesting article. Thanks!

J E Oneil said...

Interesting. I always wondered about metal plates (the idea of one kind of grosses me out). I'll have to remember about titanium being used, just in case I need it in a future book.

Elle Cosimano said...

This was super helpful, Lydia! Smoke and I thank you!

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