With dental implants becoming increasingly popular, it's important to know what options are available in case you ever need one. Titanium implants have been the traditional type used because titanium is able to fuse well with the human jawbone, as the European Federation of Periodontology (EFP) explains. But with advances in technology, new materials have come into play, such as zirconia. Here's a look at both zirconia and titanium implants and some key factors you should consider when discussing your options with your dentist.
History of Implant Materials
According to the EFP, dental implants have been used to replace missing teeth since the mid-1960s. They can support crowns, bridges or even dentures as replacements for one or more missing teeth. Implants are traditionally made of titanium, but ceramic implants, such as zirconia, have been developed as alternative options.
Aluminum oxide implants were briefly used prior to zirconia, but these were withdrawn from the market in the early 1990s, according to an article in Periodontology 2000. Zirconium dioxide — or zirconia — implants were then introduced with improved properties as metal-free alternatives to titanium.
Pros and Cons of Zirconia Implants
According to the Periodontology 2000 article, zirconia implants offer several advantages:
- Zirconia is compatible with human tissues.
- Zirconia implants have low bacterial attraction.
- They have high strength and decent fracture resistance.
- They hold up against wear and corrosion relatively well.
- Because the material can be easily colored to match the patient's natural tooth, they have excellent aesthetics, which can be especially crucial when replacing a front tooth, as a report in Case Reports in Dentistry describes.
While the advantages are clear, there are some drawbacks to using zirconia dental implants, as the Periodontology 2000 article notes:
- Over time, the material can deteriorate and lead to tiny cracks.
- The material is typically only available in one-piece implants. If a patient needs a two-piece implant, which uses an angled abutment to correct alignment, they may need to choose a metal option.
- If a patient will need any adjustment following the fitting of the implant, they should avoid zirconia, as any grinding on the surface of the implant can weaken its fracture resistance.
- Although evidence is limited, zirconia implants may have higher failure rates compared to titanium.
Pros and Cons of Titanium Implants
Conversely, there are several advantages in opting for an implant made of titanium, which are outlined in the Periodontology 2000 article:
- Titanium implants can come in two-piece varieties, which is helpful if angled implants are needed to correct your implant positioning.
- The failure rate of titanium implants is thought to be significantly lower than that of zirconia implants.
- These implants have high resistance to corrosion in the mouth and excellent biocompatibility with the bone and gum tissues, according to a review in the Indian Journal of Dermatology.
However, there are also several disadvantages associated with titanium implants:
- Although it is rare, a titanium implant may fail if the patient has an allergic reaction to the metal, as the Indian Journal of Dermatology review notes. Patients who have a history of allergies should receive a metal allergy assessment before placement of a permanent titanium implant.
- For patients with certain autoimmune conditions — such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease or diabetes — metal ions released from the implant can cause local inflammation and irritation, according to an article by the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology.
- If the tissue around the implant is thin, the dark metal may show through, resulting in poor aesthetics, as the Periodontology 2000 article explains.
With careful maintenance, dental implants can function for many years. The EFP reports that 95% of implants last for at least five years, but most are likely to have a much longer life. In order to increase the lifespan of your implant, you should keep up with a thorough oral hygiene routine, avoid smoking and attend regular dental visits.
Choosing the right implant material for you is an important decision. Discuss your options with your dental professional, and make sure you speak to your insurance provider as well in order to find a cost-effective option for your particular situation.