Zirconia Dental Implants
Dental implants are a great way to restore one or more missing teeth! A dental implant is surgically placed in the jaw bone and can be used to replace a single tooth or an entire mouth full of teeth. The most commonly used material for dental implants has been titanium since about the 1960s, but recently, zirconia has made its way into the dental market. Dentists in Europe have been using zirconia for decades but it only received FDA approval in the states in 2011. Zirconia dental implants have biocompatibility comparable to that of titanium and are just as stable as titanium. Zirconia implants are a great option for patients suffering from metal allergies that otherwise could not receive a dental implant.
Since their approval by the FDA in 2011, zirconia implants have grown in popularity and are often used in holistic dentistry. Their long-term success rate has not been adequately studied because they are so new to the dental scene whereas titanium implants have a proven success rate between 95% and 97%. Zirconia is a white, ceramic material that can be tinted to match the patient's natural teeth. A ceramic restoration is a solid material made from an inorganic compound of metal and nonmetal with ionic or covalent bonds. Zirconia implants are used as a metal-free alternative to titanium implants and are a great option for patients with metal allergies or those who are concerned with metal showing through their implant restoration as it ages.
What are the benefits of zirconia dental implants?
Zirconia implants have displayed osseointegration properties comparable to those of titanium implants. What this means is that zirconia implants are able to fuse with jaw bone structure just as well as, if not better, than titanium. Patients who prefer metal-free dentistry really only have zirconia as their option for implants but it could also be the healthier option! Zirconia retains less plaque and calculus buildup than titanium, making it better for the health of gum tissue.
Zirconia implants are more aesthetically pleasing for a longer period of time than their titanium counterparts. Over time, metal can begin to show through at the gum line as the patient ages. Since zirconia implants were initially fabricated as one piece, it is all the same color as the implant crown, which matches the rest of the teeth! As advances have been made in the field of dental technology and design, zirconia implants now come in two pieces, which allows for a customized implant and abutment and a more individualized result for each patient.
One downfall of zirconia implants is low-temperature degradation. This degradation could result in the mechanical properties of the implant reducing the strength, durability, and density of the material. Unfortunately, because zirconia is still so new, there are not many clinical studies available to exhibit the long-term success of zirconia.
Let's do a little comparison of zirconia and titanium implants:
Advantages of Zirconia Implants
Aesthetics: Zirconia implants are wholly tooth colored so there is no risk of metal showing through at the gum line. Titanium implants run a risk of tissue discoloration or a gray appearance at the implant site as the patient ages.
Biocompatibility: Zirconia has proven to have biocompatibility properties comparable to that of titanium with the added advantage of resisting corrosion and the surface of the implant is able to resist plaque accumulation which helps prevent peri-implantitis and periodontal disease which can ultimately lead to implant failure.
Holistic properties: Patients who want metal-free dental restorations have a great alternative in zirconia implants. Additionally, patients with metal allergies can have a hard time with dental restorations that contain metal properties so, though it is rare for a person to be allergic to titanium, zirconia is not a pure metal which is what causes titanium implants to be problematic for some patients.
Disadvantages of Zirconia Implants
Limited design: Titanium implants have an advantage over zirconia implants in the area of design and customization. Because zirconia implants are still new, design improvements have only been made in the past few years. Limitations on design availability and the availability of different zirconia parts can make it difficult for your dentist to provide you with the best possible custom results. Patients that require intensive dental restorative treatment may not have the advantages of zirconia as an option
Durability: Zirconia is more brittle than titanium which means that it is more likely to fracture under forces that can cause the implant to flex or bend. Zirconia has a lower fracture strength and a lower flexural strength and is also smaller in diameter than titanium implants so they are not as strong and durable as titanium.
Long-term success: Because zirconia implants are still young in the world of dentistry, they do not have the studies to show long-term success like titanium implants do. Titanium implants have a proven success rate between 95% and 97% and have the studies to prove it.
So, which is better?
Titanium implants have been around for decades so they have the studies available to support their biocompatibility and success rates. For this reason, most patients feel more comfortable with titanium implants. Zirconia implants have proven to be a promising alternative to titanium implants for patients you prefer nonmetal dentistry or for those who have metal allergies. Zirconia has a comparable biocompatibility and ossoeintegration ability and may be better for some patients. Until zirconia has the long-term studies to show longevity, it really comes down to personal preference.
Zirconia implants are a safe alternative available to patients that want or need it. Your dentist will review your options and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type with you before together, you decide what type of implant is right for you.