Most dental implants are made from titanium, a material with proven biocompatibility that integrates with bone extremely well. Bone is able to grow on the surface of titanium dental implants, making them immovable. The success rates for titanium alloy implants is typically 95% or even higher. Initially, pure titanium was used to fabricate implant components but was found to be too soft, which is why implant companies developed an alloy capable of offering superior strength while still retaining excellent biocompatible properties. Although there haven’t been any cases of allergic reactions to titanium, very occasionally some people may be particularly allergic or sensitive to other metals used in the alloy. Around 5% of people have a nickel sensitivity or may have other concerns about having anything metal in their body.
Due to concerns about possible sensitivities and allergies to titanium alloy, some companies have researched and developed metal-free implants using zirconium. Although this material is called a ceramic, it does contain trace amounts of two other metals, hafnium, and yttrium which helps to improve its properties. Zirconia is extremely strong and it osseointegrated in a similar way to titanium.
PROS AND CONS OF EACH MATERIAL
Titanium is proven to be successful in implants that are still functioning well after decades of use. It is possible zirconia will be equally successful but at the moment, long-term success rates are not available. Titanium implants are more versatile because they are fabricated as one or two-piece systems, allowing dentists greater flexibility in planning treatment and in surgical placement. The options for use are greater as titanium implants may be used to support fixed restorations, as well as overdentures.
Zirconium implants are fabricated in a single piece so implant restorations must be cemented in place. Greater care needs to be taken when placing these implants and bone volume is particularly important because there is so little room for error. However, there are several advantages of using zirconia dental implants, as the material is thermally non-conductive and it will not corrode. The ceramic color of the material ensures there is no risk of metal showing at the gum line, but the possibility of this happening with titanium implants is rare.
In most cases, using titanium dental implants will provide reliable results backed by years of research and development. Titanium implants provide a more flexible approach to treatment that may ultimately produce better results for the patient. However, if a patient has real concerns about using metal implants, zirconium could be a useful alternative on occasion, provided the patient understands the possible limitations of this treatment.