metal foam

Getting my teeth into some latte art

LatteArt_CoffeeworksEach year, in the UK, there are approximately 160 000 hip or knee replacements. Additionally, many of us will have a dental implant during our lifetime. How is this linked with coffee? The answer lies in the differences between a latte and a cappuccino.

To support the artwork that can be seen on many a latte, the milk foam used for the drink is a fine “micro-foam”. It is quite a soft structure. On the other hand a cappuccino is more rigid, being made out of a larger foam structure. The different way that a barista froths the milk for a cappuccino compared to a latte means that the peak structures that can be formed in the cappuccino, are far more difficult to create in a latte, the cappuccino has more of a “meringue like” froth.

Joint replacements and dental implants were traditionally made from solid metal. This meant that the majority of the load that was put on the joint (by walking or chewing for example) was carried by the implant. It is thought that this was one of the reasons that joint replacements and dental implants eventually failed; the bond between the bone and the implant became progressively weaker in a process called “aseptic loosening”. In recent years there have been many improvements to joint replacements/implants so as to avoid these problems. One such improvement is to manufacture the implant out of a metallic foam instead of solid metal.

Cappuccino showing peaks in the foamJust like a latte or a cappuccino, the way that the metal foam responds to stress (and its rigidity) is dependent on many factors including the size of the bubbles in the foam and exactly what the foam is made from. (Imagine comparing a cappuccino with a soya milk cappuccino). By manipulating the structure of the metal foam, an implant can be made that behaves almost exactly as bone does when stress is placed on it. Together with the inherently stronger bone-implant bond created by the bone growing into the ‘bubbles’ of the implant foam, this is thought to reduce the risk of implant failure owing to ‘aseptic loosening’.

I am indebted to Michaela and Juan of Poppy’s Place for patiently showing me the art (and science) of making coffee. With good coffee (from Climpson & Sons) and knowledgeable barista-teachers, it is a place that I am sure that I will return to very soon. Michaela and Juan assured me that if I would like to see a properly rigid milk foam I should order a “babyccino”. There are however limits to the amount that I am prepared to ‘suffer for my science’ and the babyccino is it. If you would like to properly investigate the effect of bubble structure on the ability of an implant (dental or otherwise) to take stress, I suggest you compare a latte with a babyccino. If, like me, you like your coffee, a cappuccino will definitely suffice.