When it comes to getting replacement teeth, dental implants act as one of the best options. They last a very long time and function in a way that is similar to natural teeth. Furthermore, they usually provide a better aesthetic result than other options.
While titanium implants have been considered the gold standard for implant dentistry for many years, there is a new implant material that is providing some competition. This new material is known as zirconia. Just like titanium, it is strong, lightweight and biocompatible, so either would work well as an implant material. However, one of the key differences is that while titanium is a metal, zirconia is a crystalline ceramic, earning it the title of a metal-free implant.
With this new implant material on the market, patients are starting to ask about which material is better and which one is right for their tooth replacement needs. In this article, we are going to compare these two materials to help patients gain a better understanding of the differences between titanium and zirconia implants.
When you look at the record of success and history of reliability, titanium does have an advantage over zirconia. It isn’t that zirconia has a bad record, but that titanium has a more complete record. Implant dentists have been using titanium since the 1960s and there is a robust body of research to demonstrate its reliability and long-term results. On the other hand, zirconia has only been in use since the late 1980s, meaning there hasn’t been as much research or a comparable level of use. With a longer history and many more patients using titanium, there is far more data to draw conclusions from. This means that researchers and clinicians know what to expect when it comes to using titanium dental implants. Zirconia has performed well so far, and no serious issues have arisen, but there is still more to learn about the material.
Osseointegration is the process of bone fusing with an implant material. After an implant is placed in the jaw, it takes time for the implant material to set and form a bond with the bone surrounding it. Both zirconia and titanium are biocompatible and they both perform well in the osseointegration stage.
While both materials do perform well, titanium does have a slight advantage. Since most zirconia implants are a single structure, they cannot be placed in a way that allows them to be covered by the gums during osseointegration. In some situations, covering the implant is important for aiding with the osseointegration process.
Both titanium and zirconia can provide good aesthetic results. However, zirconia does have a slight advantage in this regard. Titanium is a grey metal, and zirconia is a ceramic that has an appearance that is similar to ivory. While titanium implants are capped with a crown that looks like a natural tooth, there is the possibility that there could be a greyish rim that shows through the gums near the bottom of the tooth.
It is important to note that while the colour of the implant might show through a little, this is typically not the case, and even when it is, it is usually not noticeable. Furthermore, a skilled dentist can use technologies like 3D imaging to place titanium implants with great precision, and this can reduce the possibility of the implant showing through in that area.
Both types of implants have an implant that goes into the bone, and abutment that attaches to the implant and a crown the serves as the replacement tooth. With a titanium implant, these three parts are separate and they are often installed in three separate procedures. With zirconia implants, the three parts of the implant come in a “one-piece” structure, and they are all placed at the same time.
A single placement procedure is an advantage for zirconia implants, but it does come with some drawbacks. The first is that the three separate components of titanium implants make it possible to set the implant deeper in the bone, which makes them more stable. Along with that, the all-in-one design of zirconia implants can limit the placement options for the implant surgeon.
Both titanium and zirconia are strong and they can stand up to the rigors of being a replacement tooth. But with that being said, titanium is stronger, more durable and has a longer record of use. A titanium implant can last 25 years or more. When you go with zirconia, the lifespan is more of an unknown field. We know that they perform well in the short-term outlook, but with less research available, it is difficult to predict the long-term reliability.
As an additional point, zirconia implants have tested well for strength in regard to compressive force, but it has been shown to have problems with elastic forces. This means that it does not flex well under pressure. While this is not likely to be an issue for most patients, this lack of ability to perform well for elasticity gives rise to a risk for the implant to fracture.
Titanium implants prove to be far more versatile than zirconia implants. As mentioned previously, the one-piece design of zirconia implants can limit the placement options, which eliminates the possibility of some procedures being performed with zirconia implants. As an example, zirconia implants are not suitable for full-mouth or full-arch replacement procedures.
Beyond the limits on placement, you also have the issues that come with small diameter implants. In many cases, an implant dentist may need to use a small diameter implant and in situations like these, the risk of fracture is too great to use zirconia. If there is a limited amount of space or thin bone at the site of the implant, the dentist will need to use a titanium implant as they still perform well, even with smaller diameters.
Both of these materials are safe for use in dental implant surgery, have a high rate of success, fuse well with bone and are biocompatible. But with titanium having a much longer history, its safety can be stated to a much higher degree of certainty.
Only about 0.06% of patients experience a titanium allergy. If the individual has a
history of metal allergies, it is recommended that they take the MELISA test to detect a potential titanium allergy.
For zirconia implants, the primary safety risk that has been identified is the potential for fractures. While this is uncommon, a fractured dental implant can be a serious problem.
Cost of dental implants can vary significantly depending on a range of factors. You have the cost of the implant itself and you also have the cost of the procedure. If you are just looking at the implant as a cost factor, zirconia is the more expensive option. However, the costs of implant surgery vary significantly depending on the clinic, the materials used, and the needs of the patient. If you want to get a cost comparison that offers a reliable estimate, you will need to visit and be examined by dentists that provide dental implant services. With that being said however, it is relatively easy to find affordable dental implants in the UK either way.
Zirconia does have some benefits and it is gaining in popularity, but most implant dentists still prefer to use titanium. This is mostly because the majority of dentists prefer to use a material that is more familiar and has a longer history of providing good results.
As time goes on, that might be subject to change, but titanium is most likely going to remain the more popular implant material for quite some time.
If you wish to learn more about the different types of implant materials dentists provide, please feel free to watch the video below.
Established in 2009, Brighton Implant Clinic has 5 clinics spread across Sussex and a vast team of experienced and knowledgeable dentists and dental nurses.
If you would like to find out more about our dental implants or any other treatment we provide, Contact Brighton Implant Clinic for details on how to contact your nearest branch.