When looking at options for dental implants, a lot of patients have questions and concerns around the materials used to hold the implants in place. After all, adjusting to having implants can be a nerve-wracking process, so it's reasonable to want all of the information possible before making a decision.
The two most common materials dental implants used to hold crowns in place are titanium and zirconia. While both are safe to use and have been successfully implemented by oral surgeons globally, each has its own pros and cons.
To help you make the decision that best suits you, let's explore the differences between titanium and zirconia implants.
Definition of a Dental Implant
Dental implants are tooth root replacements that are capped with ceramic dental crowns that replace a patient's original tooth or set of teeth.
There is a range of dental implant options available from single tooth replacement, to All-On-Four replacement and Zygoma Implants, each designed to treat patients with varying needs for tooth replacement.
What is a Titanium Implant?
In this type of implant, the main metal used from the implant screw and hold the tooth crown in place is titanium. Backdating to its inception 65-years ago when Professor P-I Brånemark made the discovery of natural bone attachment to titanium (known as osseointegration), the titanium implant has been the material of choice of practitioners for decades.
Titanium is a metal that is strong, lightweight, non-toxic and corrosion-resistant, making it a perfect option for an implant. In fact, titanium dental implants have proven clinical efficacy (>95% over 5 years).
Benefits of Titanium Implants
- As titanium is a longstanding solution in implantology, it is well researched with long-term case studies supporting its use. Most cases show that with proper care the lifespan of a titanium implant is over 25 years.
- Titanium is biocompatible, FDA approved and considered safe, which means that it interacts favourably with the human body and is non-toxic. In fact, many other surgeries incorporate titanium, including hip and knee replacements, as titanium replacements are easy to place without complications if bone density and bone health are good.
- Titanium is easy to customise and make alterations to, so for a full set of teeth replacement, it is often preferable as the smile line look and bite alignment will feel more natural.
- Typically, the cost of titanium is slightly lower than the zirconia. Titanium implants are incredibly strong, have high flexural properties and resist fracture.
Challenges of Titanium Implants
- While it's quite rare to develop this kind of allergy, in some cases patients have reported being allergic to the small amount of nickel found in the titanium alloy used to make dental implants (around 0.6% of patients).
- On occasion, titanium can over time develop a visible grey line under the gum and along the tooth ridge, which is less aesthetically pleasing than zirconia.
- 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, whereas zirconia has been shown not to seep into the bloodstream.
What is a Zirconia Implant?
Zirconia implants are relatively new to implantology and have been used in the US since around 2007 and since the late 1980s in Europe. Often marketed as 'metal-free', the zirconia implant is made of the crystal phase of the metal zirconium; zirconium Oxide, otherwise referred to as “zirconia”.
Tinted to the off-white colour of natural teeth, zirconia implants are often appealing to patients for mostly aesthetic reasons.
Benefits of Zirconia Implants
- Zirconia is also biocompatible, hypoallergenic and does not seep into the bloodstream. There have been no reports of allergic reactions to zirconia implants thus far.
- Zirconia is technically 'metal-free' and as it has no proven cases of seeping into the bloodstream, is often a preferable material to some patients.
- Zirconia implants also lead to less mucosal discolouration than titanium (the grey line mentioned earlier).
- Zirconia is a ceramic and therefore does not suffer any corrosion.
Challenges of Zirconia Implants
- As the newest material on the dental implant market, zirconia hasn't been around long enough to prove its long-term success in patients through scientific research.
- Zirconia is typically more expensive than titanium.
- Very rarely, some older versions of zirconia implants have been known to slightly fracture. While a strong material, zirconia is slightly less robust with lower elasticity that its peer, titanium.
- Most Zirconia dental implants cannot heal under the gums because of their “one-piece” design, meaning that they do not have a removable abutment but one that is fixed to the implant.
Which implant material is best?
Typically patients tend to opt for the more scientifically proven and less expensive option; titanium. However, there are significant benefits and risks associated with each option and should be taken as case-by-case with the recommendation of your practitioner.
If you'd like to ask any questions or find out which option might suit your needs best, feel free to get in touch with our team - we'd be happy to offer advice and help you out.