Zirconia Dental Implants
While most dental implants are made of titanium, today there is another choice. Zirconia dental implants – also known as zirconium implants – are gaining traction as an alternative material for replacing a missing tooth. While relatively new to the United States, zirconia dental implants have been used safely in Europe for decades.
Zirconia dental implants work the same way as traditional titanium ones. During the dental implant surgery, the surgeon drills a small hole into the jaw bone. Then, a screw made of zirconia is inserted into this hole. Over a period of several months, this material will fuse with the natural bone through a process known as osseointegration, creating a strong bond. This will serve as a solid anchor for the artificial tooth which will later be placed atop the zirconia implant. Zirconium is biocompatible, meaning that it is safe to implant within the body, and has an osseointegration success rate comparable to titanium implants.
While their functionality is very similar, titanium and zirconium dental implants do differ in several important ways. Zirconia dental implants are made of zirconium oxide (ZrO2), which is a metal, like titanium. However, zirconia, in the form used for dental implants, actually appears closer to a ceramic than a metal. It is white, which means it looks more natural than the metallic appearance of a titanium implant, which may create a dark line at the gums where the implant connects to the artificial tooth. On the other hand, even up close a zirconium implant is nearly indistinguishable from a natural tooth root. In addition, because many dentists consider them to be a ceramic rather than a metal, they are the preferred option for patients who are seeking metal-free dentistry solutions.
In addition, zirconia resists corrosion, and is very heat- and fracture-resistant. At least in theory, titanium implants could corrode in the mouth, since they are metal. Theoretically, this property could enhance the durability and longevity of the zirconium implant. Zirconia implants are also hypoallergenic, an important consideration for patients with an allergy to titanium.
Today, more and more dentists are offering zirconia dental implants. However, there are two important drawbacks to consider: cost and availability. Zirconium implants are still considered to be on the cutting edge of dental technology, and as such, they are not offered by as many dentists as titanium implants. In addition, because they utilize newer technologies and have not been as widely adopted, they tend to be more expensive than standard titanium implants. Today, titanium is still considered to be the top choice by many dentists, though zirconia implants are becoming increasingly accepted in the dental world.
If you are planning to undergo dental implant surgery, talk to your dentist about the options available to you. While many dentists automatically opt for titanium dental implants, these are no longer the only option. Many patients have found zirconium dental implants to be an attractive option for their situation. Both titanium and zirconia dental implants do have benefits and drawbacks that should be discussed thoroughly prior to your implant surgery.