Dental implant made of pure titanium (Ti) is prone to scratch and abrasion during routine oral hygiene procedures. This results an increase in surface roughness and therefore, facilitates the adhesion of bacteria. In severe cases, this could lead to peri-implantitis. To overcome this problem, surface modification of Ti is necessary to improve its abrasion resistance. Besides, a strong implant-gingiva interface should also be guaranteed to prevent the adhesion of bacteria. In this study, titanium nitride (TiN) coating was first prepared with gas nitriding to increase surface hardness of pure the substrate. Then, the TiN was hydrothermally treated in CaCl2 solution in order to improve its soft tissue biocompatibility. The effect of hydrothermal treatment temperature on surface properties of TiN was investigated and its biocompatibility was assessed in vitro using NIH3T3 fibroblast cell. It was determined that 120 °C was the critical temperature for the hydrothermal treatment condition. Treatment below 120 °C could incorporate Ca into TiN surface, oxidize TiN surface partially and then improve the wettability while preserving its morphology and hardness. Fibroblast cell attachment and proliferation were improved and cell spreading was enhanced on hydrothermally treated specimens compared with untreated ones. Improved wettability, Ca incorporation and negative surface due to interstitial N were believed to be the main reasons. Hydrothermal treatment is expected to make TiN a promising dental implant coating with excellent abrasion resistance and good soft tissue affinity.
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