What are Zirconia Dental Implants?
Zirconia Dental Implants are tooth root replacements, capped with a ceramic dental crown. The crown (replacement tooth) is connected to the implant with an abutment. Zirconia implants are somewhat new to the implant arena. In the US, we have been using Zirconia for implants since 2007 (Europe since the late 1980’s) while we have been using Titanium for dental implants since the 1960’s. Both materials are bio-compatible offering high acceptance rates with the body promoting Osseointegration which means bone can grow around the implant material just as it does around our natural tooth roots. Currently, most FDA approved Zirconia implants are one piece. This means that the synthetic tooth root and the abutment are connected whereas they are two pieces with Titanium dental implants giving the dentist more control over a few elements of the entire implant placement process.
Are Zirconia Implants metal free?
Zirconia is best known for its likeness to diamonds. It is a crystal material that is altered slightly when used in implant dentistry to give it a tooth color. Zirconia is the crystal form of the transitional metal Zirconium and Zirconia implants are often marketed as “metal free”. When the zirconium is treated, stabilized and converted into its crystal phase, it becomes a ceramic so Zirconium Oxide, otherwise referred to as “Zirconia” technically can be called, “metal free”. Due to the rise of concerns over Mercury used in dental fillings, some patients are partial to the idea of keeping metal out of their mouths entirely.
Can someone be allergic to their dental implant?
It is rare to be allergic to a Titanium dental implant and there are no documented cases of being allergic to Zirconia. Titanium dental implants are usually made of Titanium Alloy which is a combination of a few metals including small amounts of Aluminum, Vanadium and Nickle. The few people who have been allergic to Titanium implants are usually allergic to the small amount of Nickle which is found in Titanium Alloy. Patients with a history of metal allergies are encouraged to take the MELISA Test (http://www.melisatest.com/) prior to having a Titanium implant placed.
Are both Titanium and Zirconia safe materials to have implanted in the jawbone?
Both options of implant materials are biocompatible, FDA approved and considered safe. This means that they interact favorably with the human body and are non-toxic. Small traces of the Titanium Alloy may become present in the bloodstream but the past 50 years of study has shown it to cause no adverse reactions. (The only exception being if the patient is allergic to a metal in the alloy.) Zirconia is also biocompatible, hypoallergenic and does not seep into the bloodstream.
Getting dental implants regardless of the material increases risk of gum infection until the site has healed properly. There are some arguments that two-piece implants have a higher chance of harboring bacteria while single piece implants require dental cement which also can collect bacteria so neither are safe from developing plaque.
Can both materials be used for a mouthful of replacement teeth?
If a full arch or full set of teeth are to be replaced, Titanium implants are the better choice. Since Titanium implants are made in two pieces, a dentist has more freedom to make small alterations to the angle of the abutment. This means that the smile line look and bite alignment will feel more natural. Whereas, with single piece Zirconia implants, angles are much harder to customize as the abutment is stationary not allowing the dentist to customize the position.
Are Titanium Implants better than Zirconia?
There are pluses and minuses to each type of material and we would recommend a certain type of implant after listening to our patient’s concerns and goals. Below are a few categories most often analyzed when deciding between the two
1. Cost – The cost to manufacture zirconia (think cubic zirconia jewelry) is higher than titanium so zirconia implants will cost patients more than a standard titanium dental implant.
2. Osseointegration and Soft Tissue Healing – Both Zirconia and Titanium implant materials are bio-compatible and integrate well with the bone and gums. Titanium implants often last for 20 plus years while Zirconia is still under research as it has not been used long enough to tell long-term success. Older Zirconia versions have been known to fracture requiring new implants. Some Zirconia manufacturers will scare patients into thinking that Titanium will cause a shock or a piezo-electric current if there is any other type of metal in the mouth. However, this concern is fairly unfounded as we have not found any documentation on this ever being a problem for patients.
3. Ease of Placement – Titanium implants have been the standard in care for tooth replacement for quite some time as more people are turning to them instead of dentures for multiple tooth replacement. Titanium implants have become a very common dental procedure and are considered easy for a dentist to place without complications if bone density and bone health are good. Successful surgical placement of Zirconia implants has proven to be more challenging. Most Zirconia implants are single pieces (both implant and abutment in one solid piece) which cannot be placed completely under the gums and are difficult to place at an angle. Being able to place the implant at a slight angle is important to the dentist because occasionally, due to bone density and teeth profile, an implants optimal position is slightly off centered. There are newer two piece models out that should be more easily placed however they have not yet been widely tested.
4. Aesthetics – For most patients, Titanium produces great results. However, some patients are concerned about developing a visible grey line under the gums or along the tooth ridge. If patients have thin bone or gum tissue, the abutment of the dental implant can be made of ceramic so that no grey metal will show through. On the other hand, Zirconia is known for its aesthetics. The beautiful white tooth color of the ceramic material looks very natural and does not show through gum tissue.
5. Strength – Titanium implants are incredibly strong, have high flexural properties and resist fracture. Zirconia has a lower elasticity which can lead to more micro fractures, but is also very hard and strong.
Talk to your Doctor today to see if you are a candidate for implant surgery and discuss your metal free options!