Zirconia Dental Implants
The FDA approved the use of zirconia implants in 2011, but they have been used in Europe even longer. Dentists are using these implants more and more for tooth replacement. Zirconia offers biocompatibility and stability like titanium but it may not be the ideal solution for everyone.
What Are Zirconia Implants
Since the 1960s, dentists have been using titanium for dental implants and the success rate is between 94 to 97% long term. Zirconia is an alternative material for titanium; it is ceramic based and white in color like natural teeth. In Biomimetic and holistic dentistry, zirconia implants are in high demand. New clinical research and design improvements are helping zirconia implants increase in popularity.
What Are Zirconia Implants Made of
While titanium implants are made from a metal alloy, zirconia implants are made from a ceramic material. The ceramic base does contain some metal as well as non-metal material. Zirconia is short for zirconium dioxide, making the material composition both zirconium and oxygen. Even though zirconium is known as a transitional metal, it is nonmetallic due to the structure of the molecule when its combined with oxygen.
Pros of Choosing Zirconia Dental Implants
When people prefer metal free dentistry and are looking for tooth replacement options, zirconia is the only option available for dental implants. Whether you are allergic to metals or you have sensitivities to it, zirconia offers a completely inert choice. Aesthetically, zirconia implants are optimal due to the natural white color that is so similar to the natural tooth color. Zirconia implants are made in both one-piece implants as well as two piece, so they can be customized to your mouth for your tooth replacement. Zirconia has been shown to retain less plaque and tartar buildup than titanium offering a way for your gums to stay disease free. Zirconia is both strong and resistant to fracturing while offering similar osseointegration to titanium.
Cons of Choosing Zirconia Dental Implants
The biggest consideration to keep in mind when choosing zirconia implants is the low temperature degradation of the material the longer it is in place. This degradation can lead to decreased strength and density, leaving the implant less durable. Due to the recent approval of zirconia in dental implant use, there are not numerous clinical studies on the long-term success of this type of dental implant. To further complicate the consideration, there is even less long-term information on the success of two-piece zirconia implants. There may be limitations of the material that have not been fully explored in long-term studies. Due to the limited options for abutment angulation, the surgical placement of the implant is also limited. Finally, once one piece zirconia implants are placed, you will not be able to put pressure on the implant while it is healing which can prove to be difficult.
As compared to the decades that titanium has been used for dental implants and the resulting research, the limited research of zirconia implants is one of the biggest risks when considering zirconia implants. The research from titanium dental implants shows that over time the excess cement used can cause an inflammatory response in your gum tissue, whereas this problem has yet to be reported in zirconia implants.
Zirconia Dental Implants Compared to Titanium
- Aesthetics – With the metal color of titanium, when it is placed in the gums it can show through and cause a gray shadow in your gums. Zirconia is white in color like your natural teeth so the material can offer a more natural looking implant.
- Metal Allergy or Sensitivity– When people hear titanium dental implant, they may think they are getting a fully titanium implant. Instead, it is a titanium alloy with about 89-99% titanium and may include varying amounts of Iron, Manganese, Chromium, Tin, Vanadium, Molybdenum, Zirconium, Niobium, Zinc, Tungsten, and Nickel. Zirconia implants are metal free eliminating any metal sensitivity reactions.
- Plaque Accumulation – As compared to titanium, zirconia implants have been show to allow less plaque buildup in some studies.
- Electrical and Thermal Conduction – Zirconia implants will help you avoid any galvanic or battery effects, unlike titanium implants.
- Variety of Components and Designs – Due to the years of use and development, titanium implants are available in a variety of shapes, designs and styles to offer the dentist the most options when considering your specific tooth replacement needs. Two-piece zirconia implants have only been available in the United States since 2019. When you are looking to replace more than one tooth, this limitation can prevent its use in your treatment plan.
- Long Term Success – Because titanium has been in use in dentistry and medical procedures since the 1960s, there are decades of research and case studies to establish its longevity and success rate over long periods of time. Data is still being collected on zirconia implants and their long-term performance.
- Strength and Fracture Resistance – In a straight comparison, titanium is stronger and has more flexural strength than zirconia. Zirconia can be compressed without issue but it is more likely to fracture than titanium if that pressure includes bending. This can lead to problems in the long run when using zirconia for your dental implant. While the smaller diameter of the zirconia implants is an attractive option for people with thinner jaw bones or small gaps between teeth, it can allow for the implant to fracture more easily. Some research from 2015 shows that implants with a diameter smaller than 4mm will lead to fractures.
- Complex Oral Rehabilitations or Implant Supported Dentures – If you are looking to replace all your teeth and want to use implant support dentures for your new smile, you may want to consider titanium over zirconia. When replacing all your teeth or even one jaw of teeth, the dentist will need to strategically place the implants to ensure the success of the procedure. The jaw bone needs to be strong enough, the angle of the implant affects the denture performance and the size of the implant require the dentist to optimize the procedure for your specific mouth. The zirconia implants may not offer the right solution for your situation.