Over the relatively short history of dental implants, titanium was determined the choice material for implant designs. Titanium, when installed correctly, could withstand the workload of the human jaw most similarly to natural teeth. This metal had a lower risk of complications compared to other metals, and it boasted the best bone integration success rate. Titanium is the “default” material that you will find in practices that perform implant surgeries. It is less expensive, and for the majority of the population, it adequately meets patients’ needs.
There are some downsides, naturally. “Low-risk” does not mean “no-risk.” Implant complications usually involve infection at the site or weakness due to failed osseointegration (merging with bone like a tooth’s root). Implants are a little higher-maintenance at the crown; careful cleaning must become a habit so bacteria do not grow in the microscopic crevices between implant segments. Also, a small percentage of the population is severely allergic to titanium. The allergy can be tested for ahead of time. Holistic-minded patients and those seeking to detox and heal their physical health should be aware that titanium, like any metal, will find its way into the bloodstream. As long as titanium implants are installed in a patient’s jaw, presence of metal in the blood and underlying health disruptions will be permanent.
Metal-free zirconium ceramic implants are new to the U.S. market, but have been the choice implants of Europe and Canada for a while. American biological dentists have long been awaiting an alternative to titanium. Patients also seeking this alternative are heaving sighs of relief, particularly those few who are physiologically sensitive to metal.
Zirconium is more expensive than titanium, but the cost covers tangible benefits that titanium cannot promise. Zirconium is just as strong as — if not stronger than — titanium or titanium alloy. It is similar to human bone in structure, thus providing the strength needed to withstand the jaw’s pressure of daily movement when chewing or biting. Because it contains no metal, the body does not reject it as a foreign object or a toxin. This creates a stronger bond and integration into the facial and jaw bones, which means the implant will last a very long time — a lifetime, if installation is done well.
The absence of metal also promotes better health in the surrounding tissues. Fewer, if any, bacterial infections occur if the implant and crown are carefully maintained with daily hygiene. Also, sometimes titanium implants will show off slight grayish discoloration around the gum line. Zirconium implants are all white, just like a natural tooth, and will not cause aesthetic disturbances. Patients’ satisfaction tends to be higher with ceramic as well.
As a holistically-minded dentist, I prefer using zirconium over titanium any day… if you couldn’t tell. But I offer both, and many patients are content to settle for titanium if they have tested negative for allergies. Not to mention, implants by themselves are not an end-all solution. Restoring a dying tooth successfully and preventing the need for an implant in the first place is certainly a better route to take. With the aid of ozone gas and a dental laser, restoring a tooth to health is more viable than many people (other dentists included) think! Sometimes, on the other hand, implants are the best way to go. I will answer questions and provide all the information patients need so they can make the best decision for themselves.
Dr. Sperbeck, West Los Angeles