A metallurgical characterization of ten endodontic Ni-Ti instruments: assessing the clinical relevance of shape memory and superelastic properties of Ni-Ti endodontic instruments.
AIM To investigate the effects of cryogenic treatment on nickel-titanium endodontic instruments. The null hypothesis was that cryogenic treatment would result in no changes in composition, microhardness or cutting efficiency of nickel-titanium instruments. METHODOLOGY Microhardness was measured on 30 nickel-titanium K-files (ISO size 25) using a Vicker's indenter. Elemental composition was measured on two instruments using X-ray spectroscopy. A nickel-titanium bulk specimen was analysed for crystalline phase composition using X-ray diffraction. Half of the specimens to be used for each analysis were subjected to a cryogenic treatment in liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees C) for either 3 s (microhardness specimens) or 10 min (other specimens). Cutting efficiency was assessed by recording operator choice using 80 nickel-titanium rotary instruments (ProFile 20, .06) half of which had been cryogenically treated and had been distributed amongst 14 clinicians. After conditioning by preparing four corresponding canals, each pair of instruments were evaluated for cutting efficiency by a clinician during preparation of one canal system in vitro. A Student's t-test was used to analyse the microhardness data, and a binomial test was used to analyse the observer choice data. Composition data were analysed qualitatively. RESULTS Cryogenically treated specimens had a significantly higher microhardness than the controls (P < 0.001; beta > 0.999). Observers showed a preference for cryogenically treated instruments (61%), but this was not significant (P = 0.21). Both treated and control specimens were composed of 56% Ni, 44% Ti, 0% N (by weight) with a majority in the austenite phase. CONCLUSIONS Cryogenic treatment resulted in increased microhardness, but this increase was not detected clinically. There was no measurable change in elemental or crystalline phase composition.