Novel speed sintered zirconia by microwave technology
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Objective: Continuous efforts have been made to hasten the zirconia densification process without compromising properties. This study evaluated the long-term structural durability of microwave speed-sintered zirconia (MWZ) relative to a conventionally sintered zirconia (CZ). Methods: As-machined dental 3Y-TZP discs (Ø12 × 1.2 mm) were speed sintered at 1450 °C for 15 min using an industrial microwave oven, while conventional sintering was conducted in a standard dental furnace at 1530 °C for 2 h. Both were followed by natural cooling. The total sintering time was 105 min for MWZ and 600 min for CZ. Groups were compared regarding density, grain size, phase composition, and fracture resistance. Structural durability was investigated employing two fatigue protocols, step-stress and dynamic fatigue. Results: Compared to CZ, MWZ exhibited a slightly lower density (MWZ = 5.98 g/cm3, CZ = 6.03 g/cm3), but significantly smaller grain sizes (MWZ = 0.53 ± 0.09 μm, CZ = 0.89 ± 0.10 μm), lower cubic-zirconia contents (MWZ = 15.3%, CZ = 22.7%), and poorer translucency properties (TP) (MWZ = 13 ± 1, CZ = 29 ± 0.8). However, the two materials showed similar flexural strength (MWZ = 978 ± 112 MPa, CZ = 1044 ± 161 MPa). Additionally, step-stress testing failed to capture the fatigue effect in 3Y-TZP, whereas dynamic fatigue revealed structural degradation due to moisture-assisted slow-crack-growth (SCG). Finally, MWZ possessed a slightly higher Weibull modulus (MWZ = 7.9, CZ = 6.7) but similar resistance to SCG (MWZ = 27.5, CZ = 24.1) relative to CZ. Significance: Dental 3Y-TZP with similar structural durability can be fabricated six-times faster by microwave than conventional sintering.