For the last two decades, the use of dental implants as a method of teeth replacement has seen an exponential growth. The predominant material used for dental implants for the last forty plus years has been titanium and titanium alloys. Both titanium and titanium alloys are metals and with the increase in implant procedures there has been a rise in reports of sensitivity and reactions to such materials.
In the early eighties and in light of the increased reports of metal sensitivity and symptoms in people implanted with metal alloys, the search began for an alternative to metal for dental and orthopedic implants. Various materials were and continue to be tested and evaluated. With regards to dental implantology following in the footsteps of medical orthopedics twenty five years prior, zirconia aka zirconium dioxide is now a reliable and acceptable non-metal material for dental implantation. Zirconia is also used to make metal free crowns and bridges in restorative dentistry and dental laboratories in the United States have reported an exponential rise in the use of zirconia by dentists in the last ten years especially on posterior teeth of bruxers. Today zirconia has emerged as a truly biocompatible and most importantly bio-inert implant material in dentistry. Contrary to popular belief both among many clinicians and the public, zirconia is not a metal and not prone to breakage and fracture. Zirconia is the crystal form of the metal zirconium just like alumina is for aluminum. As a matter of fact if you look at the periodic table of elements in chemistry below, zirconium, aluminum and even titanium are in a group called transition metals (second row and second column in the yellow area), however the titanium used to make implants is used in its metal phase . That means that after extraction from the earth, upon certain specific, highly sophisticated and complex treatment such as Yttria stabilization and transformation protocols such as HIP (Hot Isostatic Press), zirconium is converted into its crystal phase which is non-metal and ceramic. Therefore the ceramic phase of the transitional metal zirconium is zirconia which is also called zirconium dioxide and used to manufacture bio-inert, biocompatible and structurally stable zirconia dental implants.