Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. O2 Dental Group does not offer zirconia implants. We only offer the endosteal implant procedure.
Zirconia implants have gained popularity in recent years as a viable alternative to titanium implants. Apart from their cosmetic appeal, zirconia implants are highly resistant to fracture and corrosion, making them an ideal choice for patients looking for a long-term dental restoration solution.
This comprehensive guide will discuss zirconia implants’ unique properties, applications, advantages, and potential drawbacks.
What Are Zirconia Implants
Zirconia implants are a non-metal tooth replacement alternative to titanium implants. Also known as zirconia ceramic implants, they are made from zirconium dioxide, a high-strength ceramic material known for its biocompatibility and durability.
Zirconia implants have been used increasingly instead of titanium implants since they became FDA-approved in 2011. The implants have key characteristics that make them a highly recommended option. They include the following:
- Strength and durability: Zirconia implants offer long-term functionality due to their capacity to withstand chewing and biting forces. Zirconia has a strong crystal structure that makes it highly resistant to fractures and chipping
- Improved comfort: Zirconia implants are less likely to transfer temperature sensations to surrounding tissues since zirconia has a lower heat conductivity. As such, patients may experience reduced sensitivity with zirconia implants
- Biocompatibility: Zirconia is bioinert, meaning it’s less likely to cause allergies or adverse tissue reactions. This characteristic makes zirconia implants a viable option for a wide range of patients
- Aesthetics: Zirconia implants can seamlessly blend in with the surrounding teeth since they match the color and translucency of natural teeth. Moreover, the implants can be constructed as a single piece, eliminating the need for a separate connector
Zirconia Implants vs. Titanium Implants
Zirconia and Titanium implants are highly recommended teeth replacement options, each with advantages and considerations. Here’s a compression of the two implant types:
Titanium implants are made from titanium, a biocompatible metal with a long track record of implant integration and longevity. On the other hand, Zirconia implants are made of zirconium oxide, a bioinert material known for its durability and strength.
While both titanium and zirconia implants are biocompatible, titanium implants have a long history of use, with extensive research highlighting the biocompatibility of titanium. However, zirconia implants also integrate well with the jawbone thanks to their high bone-to-implant contact ratio.
Allergies and Sensitivity
Titanium implants are highly biocompatible with an extremely low allergenic potential. However, patients with metal allergies might develop sensitivity complications with titanium implants. Zirconia implants provide a suitable alternative in such cases since zirconia is a bioinert and hypoallergenic material.
Titanium implants have a metal color. However, the small metal portion above the gumline can be covered using a tooth-colored crown for a more natural appearance. Zirconia implants, on the other hand, provide a more aesthetically pleasing result. They are naturally tooth-colored and can be fabricated as a single monolithic piece.
Zirconia Implant Cost
The following factors can influence the cost of zirconia implants:
- Customization and design: Zirconia implants are customized to fit each patient’s specific needs. Implant customization requires expertise, time, and resources, such as computer-aided design and milling processes. All these factors can increase the cost of zirconia implants
- Material costs: The cost of acquiring zirconia ceramic and other materials from which zirconia implants are made varies depending on the source and material quality. As such, implants made from premium-grade materials often come at a higher price
- Implant size and complexity: Large and complex zirconia implants require more materials and additional manufacturing steps, which can increase the overall cost. Moreover, since zirconia implants are charged per implant, placing multiple implants can significantly increase the procedure cost.
- Dentist’s expertise: Since surgically placing zirconia implants requires extensive skill, expertise, and experience, dentists with a proven track record of successful implant procedures are likely to charge higher fees due to their demand
On average, the cost of a single zirconia implant can range from $3000 to $6000. It’s important to note that these figures are approximate and can vary significantly based on your unique treatment plan and the factors mentioned above. It’s important that you consult your dentist to get an accurate estimate for your specific case.
Zirconia Implant Placement
The placement of zirconia implants is a multi-step process with various pre-operative assessments and surgical procedures. Here’s a general breakdown of the process:
Your dentist will thoroughly examine your oral health to assess your bone density, gum condition, and dental health. During the evaluation, they may also perform diagnostic tests such as CT scans and cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) to determine implant placement positions accurately.
Treatment Planning and Impression Taking
Based on the evaluation results, your dentist will develop a custom treatment plan that considers factors such as bone quality, aesthetic expectations, and the number and location of missing teeth. Your dentist may take impressions of your mouth using dental putty or a digital scanner if the implant is intended to support a dental bridge, denture, or crown.
These impressions will serve as a blueprint when fabricating an accurate final restoration that is aesthetically pleasing and fits properly.
Your dentist will administer anesthesia before beginning the surgery. Your preference and the complexity of the procedure will determine the type of anesthesia used. For example, your dentist may recommend general anesthesia for severe dental anxiety. In many cases, your zirconia implant can be inserted under local anesthesia only. Local anesthesia involves numbing only the area of the jaw where the surgery is to be performed.
Bone Preparation and Implant Placement
After ensuring you’re comfortable, the dentist will expose the placement site by making a small incision in the gum tissue and gently lifting it to expose the underlying bone. Next, they will use specialized drills to create a pilot hole for the implant. To ensure proper implant placement and stability, your dentist will gradually widen the pilot hole to match the implant size and depth.
Once the pilot hole is ready, the dentist will carefully insert and align the zirconia implant to promote proper osseointegration and ensure stability for the final restoration.
Flap Closure and Osseointegration
After placement, your dentist will reposition the flap tissue by carefully suturing it to cover the implant. Zirconia implants require several months to integrate with the surrounding bone through osseointegration. Your dentist will provide aftercare instructions to promote proper healing and prevent complications during this period.
Final Restoration Placement
Once the implant has fully integrated with the bone, a custom restoration designed to match your natural teeth is attached to the implant using a connector or dental cement. It’s important to note that this step isn’t necessary for zirconia implants with a one-piece design since they are fabricated with the final restoration attached.
Are Zirconia Implants Safe?
Zirconia implants have gained popularity due to their longevity and aesthetic appeal. But how safe are they? Here are some important factors to consider:
- Allergenic potential: Zirconia is a bioinert material that’s highly biocompatible. As such, it rarely causes allergic reactions, unlike metal implants that contain materials such as nickel, a common allergen in some patients
- Biocompatibility: Since zirconia is a bioinert material, it doesn’t corrode and exhibits low reactivity. Moreover, zirconia implants are highly-resistant to bacterial adhesion, reducing the risk of infection and adverse reactions in patients
- Osseointegration: Zirconia implants have excellent osseointegration due to their high implant-bone contact ratio. Recent studies report similar osseointegration to traditional titanium implants, proving that zirconia implants can provide a safe and long-lasting restoration solution
- Strength: Zirconia has a strong crystal structure making the implants highly resistant to fracturing. Moreover, the advanced manufacturing techniques involved in fabricating the implants result in high-density structures that can withstand chewing and biting forces
Various studies and research support the safety and reliability of zirconia implants. For example, a 10-year study found that zirconia implants have a success rate of 100% with average marginal bone loss. A 12-year study to evaluate the long-term clinical outcomes of zirconia-based implants found that they have a survival rate of 97.3%
The Most Successful Area for Zirconia Implants
Though zirconia implants can be used in different areas of the mouth, they are typically recommended for the anterior region. Here are the main reasons why zirconia implants are often successful in replacing anterior teeth:
- Translucency: Zirconia has translucent properties similar to that of natural teeth. This quality helps the implant to appear lifelike and seamlessly integrate with the surrounding anterior teeth as light passes through it, enhancing its aesthetic quality.
- Size limitations: Zirconia implants have larger dimensions than titanium implants to compensate for their relatively lower strength. As such, placing them in the back teeth region can be challenging since available bone volume is often limited.
- Strength: While Zirconia is a strong material, it may not withstand the significant chewing forces that back teeth endure. As a result, zirconia implants are typically recommended for the anterior region where chewing and grinding forces are not intense
- Aesthetics: Front teeth are highly visible when smiling or speaking. Apart from having a tooth-colored appearance, zirconia implants blend well with the pinkish hue of the gums, making them an excellent choice for the anterior region
Disadvantages of Zirconia Implants
Despite gaining popularity as an alternative to titanium implants, zirconia implants have a few potential drawbacks. They include the following:
- Cost: Zirconia implants are typically more expensive than titanium implants. Factors contributing to their relatively high cost include the manufacturing process and the materials used to make the implants.
- Limited design options: Unlike titanium implants, zirconia implants often come in predetermined shapes and sizes. As such, they can’t be easily modified and adjusted during surgery, making them more challenging to place
- Brittleness: Although zirconia is highly durable, it’s brittle and more prone to fractures than titanium implants. Its brittle nature means zirconia implants can chip or fracture in cases of accidental trauma or excessive biting forces
- Limited long-term research: The longevity and durability of titanium implants is supported by extensive long-term research. Since zirconia implants are a relatively newer tooth replacement option, sparse long-term data is supporting their performance and success rate
The Zirconia Implant Process Timeline
The zirconia implant process involves several stages: consultation, treatment planning, surgery, and restoration. Here’s a breakdown of the procedure with a general timeline for the overall process:
Consultation (1-2 visits)
Your dentist performs an oral evaluation to determine your viability of zirconia implants. They will also discuss your medical history and address any concerns that you may have.
Treatment Planning (1-2 weeks)
Imaging tests such as X-rays and CT scans are performed to assess the quality of your jawbone and determine the best approach for implant placement. Your dentist will formulate a treatment plan based on factors like the number of implants, desired aesthetic outcome, and type of restoration.
Surgery (1-2 visits; 2-6 months healing period)
This stage involves placing the zirconia implants into your jawbone. After placing the implants, they are given 2-6 months to heal and fuse with the surrounding bone.
Restoration (2-4 visits)
Your dentist will attach the final prosthesis to the implant once it has successfully integrated with the bone. The custom restorations are fabricated using impressions of your mouth and teeth to ensure a proper fit and bite alignment. Your dentist may schedule follow-up visits to monitor the implants and address your concerns.
Zirconia Implant Recovery
Like any other dental surgery, post-operative care for zirconia implants is crucial for proper healing and preventing the risk of implant failure. Here’s a breakdown of the recovery process, including tips for promoting healing and reducing discomfort.
You should avoid touching the surgical area with your tongue or fingers immediately after the surgery. Applying ice packs to the external area of the surgical site can help reduce any swelling that may occur after the procedure. Also, take any prescribed pain medication as directed by your dentist and avoid strenuous activities for at least a week.
Maintaining good oral hygiene during recovery promotes proper healing and reduces the risk of infection. Brush and floss your teeth but avoid the surgical site for the first few days. To keep the surgical area clean, you can rinse your mouth with salt water or a prescribed antimicrobial mouthwash.
Avoid hard, crunchy, or spicy foods that may irritate the surgical site and increase the risk of implant failure. Instead, stick to a soft-food or liquid diet for the first few days. Consult your dentist to determine when to introduce solid foods into your diet.
Your dentist will schedule follow-up appointments to monitor the implant and ensure it’s integrating properly. They will also address any concerns and provide long-term care instructions.
Types of Zirconia Implants
Zirconia implants can be categorized based on their design and composition. Common types include the following:
- One-piece zirconia implants: These implants have a monolithic design where the implant body and abutment are fused. They are easy to place in situations where the position of the implant does not require customizing the abutment
- Two-piece zirconia implants: This type has the implant body and abutment as separate components. They allow abutment customization and are used when proper positioning of the implant requires angulation
- Hybrid implants: These implants consist of zirconia and other materials, such as titanium frameworks. They are recommended when there is a need to utilize the strength of a titanium framework and the aesthetic qualities of zirconia
Zirconia implants offer various benefits that make them a promising solution for patients seeking a long-term solution to tooth loss. Their durability, exceptional biocompatibility, and aesthetic appeal make them a promising option for dental implant procedures.
While concerns have been raised about the longevity of zirconia implants compared to titanium implants, improved manufacturing processes and material science advances have mitigated these issues. Zirconia implants now exhibit excellent mechanical properties and are less likely to fracture.
If you’re considering dental implant treatment, it’s important to consult with your dentist to determine if zirconia implants are a suitable option. Your dentist will provide personal guidance, address any concerns you may have, and ensure the best possible outcome by developing a treatment plan based on your specific oral health needs.