THE ROOTS OF DENTAL PORCELAIN:
A BRIEF HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The word ceramic comes from the Greek word ‘Keramicos’ which
means earthen. Historically, three basic types of ceramic materi-
als were developed; Stoneware, earthenware and porcelain. The
history of porcelain as a dental material goes back over 200
years. Porcelain has undergone significant changes over years
and current dental ceramics became known for their natural
appearance and their durable chemical and optical properties.
This paper reviews briefly the history of dental porcelain.
Dr. A. Al-Wahadni
DENTAL NEWS, Volume VI, Number 2, 1999. 43
THE ROOTS OF DENTAL PORCELAIN: A BRIEF HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Dr. Ahed Al-Wahadni, Faculty of
Dentistry, Jordan University of
Science & Technology.
P.O. Box (3030) Irbid-Jordan.
Dr. Ahed Al-Wahadni BDS, M Dent Sci, PhD Assistant Professor, Assistant Dean,
Faculty of Dentistry, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Irbid-Jordan.
Although routine use of ceramics in
restorative dentistry is a recent phe-
nomenon, the motive for a durable and
aesthetic material is ancient. Most cul-
tures through the centuries have com-
monly accepted teeth as an integral
facial structure for health, youth, beauty
and dignity. Therefore, it has been
almost universal that unexpected loss of
tooth structure and particularly missing
anterior teeth create physical and func-
tional problems and often psychological
and social disturbances as well1.
Early development of ceramic materials
took place in China and Europe during
the period of industrial revolution1.
Ceramics were the first materials to be
made artificially by humans and porce-
lain was among the first materials to be
used for early laboratory research.
The plastic properties of mud and clay
were discovered by chance and the
moulded shapes baked in a fire became
hard. Historically, three basic types of
ceramic materials were developed.
Stoneware first appeared in China,
earthenware and thirdly porcelain which
was produced by fluxing “Chine stone”
with white China clay to produce white
translucent stoneware. Many attempts
to discover the secret of Chinese porce-
lain gave rise to the development of a
scientific approach to the synthesis of
materials. The majority of the early
Chinese porcelain was called hard paste
porcelain which was composed of:
50% Kaolinite (Al2 O3 SiO2 2H2O),
25% Feldspar (K2O AL2O3 6SiO2),
25% Quartz SiO22.
The first porcelain used in dentistry in
the eighteenth century was originally
based upon the triaxial porcelain com-
position which falls into the mullite zone
of the K2O AL2O3 SiO2 phase diagram.
The history of porcelain as a dental
material thus only goes back just over
200 years. A French apothecary named
Alexis Duchateau had noticed that
glazed ceramic utensils that he used for
mixing and grinding his various chemi-
cals resisted staining with their relatively
non-porous surfaces and were also
resistant to abrasion. It would appear
that these were the circumstances that
gave birth to the idea of using porcelain
as a dental restorative material.
Early dental porcelains were relatively
white and opaque, but 64 years after
the introduction of porcelain to den-
tistry, Elias Wildman was able to formu-
late much more translucent porcelain
with shades much closer to natural
teeth. As cited by Jones2, Kerl’s hand-
book of 1970 gives the following miner-
al composition for an early dental porce-
lain developed by Stockton in 1830.
Feldspar (78%), Kaolin (15.3%), Potash
silicate (4.7%) and Dehydrated borax
(2%). The earliest glazing technique was
a Sumerian invention made famous
about 4000 BC. as Egyptian blue
faience. The glaze was made by a type
of cementation process. Potash was
drawn by capillarity to react with the sur-
face of a performed body of siliceous
particle to form a glossy coat of copper
coloured eutectic silicate, which is unlike
later ones, a melted premix of glass-form-
DENTAL NEWS, Volume VI, Number 2, 1999.
44 THE ROOTS OF DENTAL PORCELAIN: A BRIEF HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The technique of using porcelain to make
crowns was not developed until the late
1800s. Dr. Charles H. Land was a pio-
neer in porcelain jacket crown construc-
tion in 1889 3. Shortly afterwards Dr. E.B.
Spaulding, Dr. W.A. Capon and Dr. Hugh
Avery all contributed to the development
of porcelain inlay technique. By 1925 the
use of porcelain had become very well
established, and at that time high fusing
porcelains were developed to produce a
high degree of aesthetic satisfaction. Jan
Adriaansen of Amsterdam pioneered the
technique of building up porcelain with a
Since those early developments there
have been many variations in chemical
composition over the years in effort to
improve or modify the properties of the
material. Early dental porcelains were air-
fired and required relatively large particle
size powders to avoid undue opacity. The
introduction of vacuum-fired porcelains in
the 1960s led to improvements in
appearance due to reduced internal
porosity. Entrapped air bubbles during
air-firing of porcelain lead to the pres-
ence of porosity in porcelain which can
be utilized to decrease light reflection
from the cement lute so that the aesthet-
ic effect is now improved 4.
The development of vacuum-firing tech-
niques at the Dentists’ Supply Company
in the U.S.A. resulted in improvement in
the aesthetic result due to reduction in
internal porosity. Despite this improve-
ment Jones et al. 5found no statistically
significant difference in strength between
porcelain fired in air and vacuum.
Several attempts were also made during
this period to use metal reinforcement in
porcelain especially by Doctors Swan,
Felcher, Horestad, Johnson, Lakemage,
Gonod and Granger who used Iridio plat-
inum as a reinforcing metal. In 1956
Brecker 6described the manufacture of
crowns and bridges by fusing dental
porcelains to gold alloys. This develop-
ment was followed by that of alumina
reinforced feldspathic porcelain crowns
by McLean and Hughes in England in
1957 7. Alumina increased the flexural
strength and enhanced the fracture
toughness of porcelain.
The porcelain jacket crown is limited by
the need to use platinum foil matrices
and by firing shrinkage of the porcelains.
In 1983 Sozio and Riley 8described the
use of a shrink-free ceramic coping
(Cerestore coping, Hohnson and
Johnson, East Windsor NJ USA) which is
formed on an epoxy die by a transfer
O’Brien 9described a high thermal
expansion core porcelain. Magnesia
crystals were used to reinforce a high
expansion coefficient glass resulting in a
magnesia-reinforced material which is
thermally compatible with the body
porcelains normally used to veneer met-
allo-ceramic restorations. As a result the
porcelain will be more liable to thermal
shock on cooling 10. The direct fabrication
of ceramic crowns from chrystalline
hydroxapatite is not yet possible but indi-
rect technique has been developed
which involves conversion of calcium
phosphate glass to a partially crystalline
One method described by Kistler 12 and
Southan 13 strengthened quartz-bearing
porcelains by immersion in molten KNO3
for 19 hr. The ion exchange lead to
improved strength. The recent introduc-
tion of a commercial ion strengthening
paste strengthens the porcelain and
improves its tensile strength 10,14.
Porcelain is now a widely used material in
clinical dentistry; for a range of restora-
tions such as crowns and bridges with or
without reinforcing metal, laminate
veneers, inlays and onlays. Ceramic
materials or ceramic coated materials are
also used in dental implantation 15 .
In summary and to bring the history
briefly to the present I would like to
quote an excellent paragraph published
recently by Kelly et al. 1.
“Exciting ceramic materials and innova-
tive ceramics processing strategies
have been introduced in restorative
dentistry since the early 1980s. Some of
these ceramics still share roots with
research that originated in Europe in the
18th century. Today, as in the era of
Alexis Duchateau, most advances are
derived from collaborations with the
ceramics engineering community.
Notable recent progress includes 1) the
advent of predictable ceramic materials
1 Kelly J.R., Nishimura I. and Campbell S. Ceramics
in dentistry: Historical roots and current per-
spectives. J Prosthet Dent 1996; 75: 18-32.
2 Jones Dw. Development of dental ceramics, an
historical perspective. Dent Clin North Am
1985; 29: 621-645.
3 McLean JW. The science and art of dental
ceramics. A collection of monographs. Louisiana
State University. School of Dentistry, Continuing
Education Programme, 1974.
4 McLean JW. Science and art of dental ceramics.
The nature of dental ceramics and their clinical
use. Berlin; Quintessence Publishing Co, 1979.
5 Jones DW, Jones PA and Wilson HJ. The rela-
tionship between transverse strength and testing
methods for dental ceramics. J Dent 1972;
6 Brecker CS. Porcelain baked to gold - a new
medium in prosthodontics. J Prosthet Dent
7 McLean JW and Hughes TH. The reinforcement
of dental porcelain with ceramic oxides. BDJ
8 Sozio RB and Riley EJ. The shrink-free ceramic
crown. J Prosthet Dent 1981; 49:182-197.
9 O’Brien WJ. Magnesia ceramic jacket crowns.
Dent Clin North Am 1985; 29:719-723.
10Piddock V and Qualtrough AJE. Dental ceramics
- an update. J Dent 1990; 18:227-235.
11 Hobo S. and Iwata T. Castable apatite ceramics
as a new biocompatible restorative material. II.
Fabrication of the restoration. Quint Int 1985;
12 Kistler SS. Stresses in glass produced by non uni-
form exchange of monovalent ions. Journal of
the American Society 1962; 45:59-68.
13 Southan DE. Strengthening modern dental by
ion exchange. Aus Dent J 1970; 15:507-510.
14 Anusavice KJ, Shen C., Gray AE and Lee RB.
Strengthening of feldspathic porcelain by ion
exchange and tempering. J Dent Res 1990;
15 Freudenstadt PA. Retrograde root canal seal with
standardized aluminium oxide pins. ZWR
(Heidelberg) 1988; 97: 1028-1032.
and techniques for aesthetic complete
crowns, partial coverage and laminate
veneer restorations, 2) improved metal-
ceramic aesthetics with the advent of
opalescent porcelains and framework
modifications, 3) introduction of
CAD/CAM and machining as a route to
fabrication of restorations and 4)
improved understanding of the clinical
response of all-ceramic prostheses and
of the materials factors that influence
clinical longevity. Strong scientific and
collaborative foundations presently exist
for continued development and
improvement of ceramic systems by
increasingly well-informed teams of
researchers and dentists”.