What is dental zirconia?
Zirconia - zirconium-dioxide - is a metal-free all-ceramic restoration that is becoming one of the most popular materials for dental restorations.
It not only looks great, but it is also very durable. If properly taken care of, zirconia restoration can last for decades.
Zirconia is also popular because of its biocompatibility, allergic reactions to zirconia are extremely rare. People who have a metal allergy or simply don't want metal in their mouth prefer to choose zirconia restorations.
Forms of zirconia
Zirconia has different forms, each has different esthetic and physical properties. These are the three forms of zirconia used in restorative dentistry:
- Layered zirconia: More esthetic than solid zirconia, but less durable. However, layered zirconia is still stronger than e.max bridges. The only risk is that porcelain layered on the zirconia might chip off. Since e.max is only recommended for 3 unit bridges, layered zirconia might be a good choice for longer anterior bridges.
- Solid zirconia: These monolithic zirconia bridges are extremely durable, can withstand even the strongest mastication forces, therefore solid zirconia bridges are often used in the posterior region or as full arch bridges. Solid zirconia bridges are so strong, that even people with bruxism can get them. They are less appealing than e.max or the other forms of zirconia, therefore solid zirconia is seldom used in the anterior region.
- High-translucent zirconia: Not as strong as solid zirconia, but still very durable and highly esthetic. High-translucent zirconia bridges can be used both in the front and back region. High-translucent zirconia is usually used for shorter bridges.
When to use zirconia for a dental bridge?
Zirconia is not only a very durable, but also an esthetic material, therefore it can be used both in the front and back regions.
- Anterior region: Zirconia is the ideal selection for longer-span anterior bridges. Since an e.max bridge is only recommended for up to 3 units, zirconia is a great option for longer bridges.
- Posterior region: No matter how long the bridge you need in the posterior region, solid zirconia can be a great choice. It is very durable and looks great.
- Full arch bridge: Zirconia bridges are often used with the all-on-4 and all-on-6 technologies. In such cases, 4 or 6 implants are holding a full arch zirconia bridge. Such implant-supported bridges are ideal when most or all teeth are missing.
There is a reason why the popularity of zirconia-based restorations is growing rapidly. Zircona has many advantages over traditional dental materials, which makes it possible to use zirconia bridges, crowns, or veneers in many cases.
- Very tough: Zirconia bridges are unlikely to chip or break. Zirconia is the most durable ceramic material used in restorative dentistry.
- Great esthetics: Zirconia comes in many shades. No matter how white or dark your natural teeth are, there is a shade of zirconia that fits perfectly.
- Biocompatibility: Zirconia restorations are metal-free, therefore they are suitable for people with metal allergies.
- Tooth-saving: Since this material is so tough, fitting a zirconia restoration usually requires less removal of your natural tooth structure than most other types of restorations.
- Single-sitting: Zirconia restorations can be CAD-CAM milled, this means you can get a zirconia bridge within a few hours, instead of the usual 7-14 days waiting period.
- Bruxism: Thanks to their toughness, zirconia bridges are suitable for teeth grinders.
- Plaque: Compared to other materials (e.g. porcelain fused to metal), plaque accumulation is usually reduced around zirconia restorations. This means better oral health, less chance for gum problems, longer lifespan of the restoration.
The "hammer test" of a BruxZir zirconia and a pfm crown. It shows how durable a zirconia is. Duration: 0:30.
Even though there are many advantages, there are a few other factors to consider before choosing this material:
- May wear out the opposing teeth: Since zirconia is very tough, this might cause problems with the opposing teeth, as they may wear out with time.
- Caries under the bridge: If oral hygiene is neglected, secondary caries under the zirconia bridge might develop. Since the crown is very tough, this might go unnoticed until the bridge falls off or becomes loose.
- Price: Zirconia is usually more expensive than most other dental materials. However, if properly taken care of, zirconia restoration can last a lifetime.
How much does a zirconia bridge cost?
The cost of a 3 unit zirconia bridge is around $2,000 and $4,000. Such a bridge can replace one missing tooth.
The typical price of a 3 unit zirconia bridge in the UK is around £1,500 and £2,500.
Usually, two units on the two sides are attached to your natural teeth to support the bridge. The other units are replacing the missing teeth.
Longer bridges will cost more, depending on the number of missing teeth.
Implant-supported bridges cost significantly more since the additional cost of dental implant surgery can be high.
Full arch implant-supported zirconia bridges cost around $25,000 and $30,000 if you go to a clinic that is specialized in this procedure. Other clinics might charge significantly more.
Be sure to discuss with your dentist the long-term costs of your restoration, as an implant-supported solution might turn out to be more affordable in the long run.
Patient review of an implant supported all-on-4 full arch zirconia bridge. Duration: 1:29
Zirconia bridges are great to replace one or more missing teeth, but there are some alternatives that you might want to consider:
If you have one missing tooth in the front region, an e.max bridge is also a highly esthetic, metal-free solution to fill the gap.
e.max is not as strong as zirconia, therefore it is not recommended in the posterior region or for longer bridges.
PFM and gold bridges
Therefore dentists usually prefer to use zirconia instead of PFM or gold.
Fixed bridges with dental implants
There are many advantages of tooth implants over the traditional dental bridge procedure. If you can afford it, you should go for an implant fixed bridge.
Zirconia bridges are strong enough for full top or bottom arch bridges. Supported by four or six implants, this procedure can be a permanent solution if you have many missing teeth.
Frequently asked questions
How long does a zirconia bridge last?
Zirconia bridges can last a lifetime.
Zirconia is a very durable material, it does not break or chip. If you exercise proper oral hygiene and visit your dentist twice a year, your zirconia bridge should last many decades if not a lifetime.
Which is better porcelain or zirconia bridge?
Porcelain is considered to be more esthetic, however, it chips and breaks easier than zirconia.
In the front region, a porcelain bridge might be a better choice, but it is not recommended in the back of your mouth.
Is a bridge cheaper than an implant?
Dental bridge treatment is usually more affordable than implant surgery.
However, it is less likely to have problems with dental implants in the long term, so implants might prove to be more economic.
Implants are also better for your oral health.