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Ceramic dental implants are an alternative to normal titanium dental implants.
Why ceramic dental implants? What's wrong with titanium?
Titanium implants have a track record going back to 1965. The modern versions are very strong, bio-compatible, and very reliable.
What's not to like?
First, they are grey in color. Not a problem if the implant remains under the gum, but sometimes you can see the greyness through the gum. I have also seen the gum around an implant shrink back over a couple of years, exposing the metal surface itself. Not a good look!
Second, there is some evidence that microscopic titanium particles may come off the implant and get trapped in the jaw bone. Nobody knows if this might cause a health problem or not.
Third, a lot of folks nowadays would prefer to get a "metal-free" implant if possible. They just prefer to minimize the amount of metal in their bodies.
Ceramic implants are the answer to these three problems:
they are made of zirconium oxide, also called Zirconia.
1. They are tooth-colored, so they don't create a grey shadow under the gum.
2. They do not release any tiny fragments into the surrounding bone.
3. And they are metal-free.
Zirconia implants have another feature that is an advantage in certain situations; they are made in one piece and do not have a separate connector for the crown, where microscopic bacteria can collect. (This can be a problem for titanium implants, and is the cause of red and inflamed gums around some implants).
On the downside, Zirconia implants must be positioned very accurately. If they are angled incorrectly, there is no way to straighten them up!
Even though ceramic dental implants do not have the "micro-gap" that titanium implants have, it is still possible for plaque bacteria to collect around them, causing peri-implantitis.
The nature of the Zirconia material also has some other disadvantages;
1. We don't know if they heal as solidly and become as firm as titanium implants. Recent research seems to show that the two materials are now about equal. But we won't know for sure for another 5 to 10 years.
2. There have also been concerns about how strong they really are. After all, everybody knows that ceramics are brittle! But Zirconia is not a normal ceramic. It is zirconium oxide, and has been nick-named "ceramic steel" due to it's great strength. (Its base material, zirconium, is actually a "trans-metal" in chemist-speak!)
But there is still one issue that is unclear about ceramic implants.
- Zirconia "ages" due to water absorption, and slowly loses strength over a period of years. How strong will the implant be in ten years? Nobody knows.
Where can I get ceramic dental implants?
Zirconia implant systems are currently available in the United States from two manufacturers;
* CeraRoot (Oral Iceberg, Barcelona, Spain) - FDA approval since January 2011.
*Z-systems (Z-systems, Konstanz, Germany).
Three other manufacturers of ceramic dental implants are:
* Sigma (Incermed, based in Lausanne, Switzerland)
* White Sky (Bredent Medical from Senden in Germany)
* Zit-z (Ziterion of Uffenheim, in Germany)
To my knowledge, these last three are not yet available Stateside.
So, should you ask your dentist about ceramic implants?
It depends on your personal priorities. What's important to you? If you want tried-and-tested reliability, and it's a back tooth that needs replacing, I would recommend a titanium implant.
But if you want the best appearance for a front tooth, and don't like the idea of a metal implant, then I think that ceramic dental implants are now reliable enough to be a serious contender!