The science behind dental implants is pretty amazing and was actually discovered by accident. In 1952, a Swedish scientist found that when titanium was placed next to bone and left undisturbed, the bone grew right up to the surface of the titanium, making it nearly impossible to remove without cutting away the bone itself. This process is known as osseointegration, which literally means “to fuse with bone.”
Today, dental implants are one of the most popular and effective methods of replacing missing teeth. Since the 1960s, titanium has remained the industry standard for dental implants. In fact, titanium implants have become one of the most successful medical devices with a long-term medical success rate of 94-97%.
What are zirconia dental implants?
Although there has never been a report of a titanium allergy since dental implants have been in use, there are some people who have had allergies to other types of metal (nickel, for example). Other people have shown concern about any metals being in the body. As an answer to these concerns and to offer an alternative to titanium, several companies have developed “metal-free” implants with the use of zirconia.
You may be familiar with zirconia in its crystalline cubic form, as it is often used to resemble diamonds in jewelry. For dental use, it is used in the form of zirconium oxide (ZrO2), although it is not pure ZrO2. There are trace amounts of other metals called hafnium and yttrium to improve its properties, so it is important to note that it is not completely metal-free. In this form, it is labelled as ceramic, but there are metal atoms in the product.
Are zirconia dental implants safe?
Both titanium and zirconia implants integrate with bone through osseointegration, but we have a much longer history with titanium. With proper care, titanium implants have lasted 25-30 years (and beyond). We may find the same to be true with zirconia implants, but we will only know with time.
There are a few notable differences between titanium and zirconia implants. For one, zirconia implants usually cannot be left to heal under the gums because of their “one-piece” design. They do not have a removable abutment (replacement tooth), but one that is fixed to the implant. Titanium implants, on the other hand, have a removable abutment which can be placed after the implant has healed.
Secondly, zirconia has shown to be prone to fracture. Although zirconia is considered a very strong material, it doesn’t have much flexure and implants with a small diameter may crack. Also, because zirconia implants are a one-piece design, in the event that the abutment needs to be adjusted, micro-cracks could form. This ultimately could lead to a fracture of the crown or even the implant.
Lastly, zirconia implants are typically not “screwed” into place like titanium implants, but they must be cemented. This might not sound like a problem, but it is. Research has shown that dental cement can get lodged into tissues and cause bone loss, harbor bacteria, and even cause failure of a dental implant.
Are zirconia dental implants better than titanium implants?
Zirconia dental implants were designed as an alternative to traditional titanium implants. They are an answer to people who are concerned that they may be allergic to titanium (although a titanium allergy is extremely rare), and people who are concerned about metal being in the body. There are a few risks unique to zirconia implants, but we don’t have enough information to gather long-term implications about them yet. We do have an extensive library of research about titanium dental implants, however, and case study after case study has shown great success.
So, while only time will tell whether zirconia or titanium dental implants are the best (or maybe scientists will discover an even better material for implants one day), only you can decide which is right for you. If you need to replace missing teeth with dental implants, send a message to our office below or give us a call to schedule an appointment. We can help you find the right solution for your needs.