Dental Implants Metal Allergy
An allergy to titanium is extremely rare. In fact, it only occurs in approximately 0.6% of all people. For patients who have a known or suspected allergy to titanium, it can cause challenges with receiving dental implants for replacing missing teeth. Fortunately, alternatives to the traditional titanium implants have been created for this specific purpose. This article will review various factors associated with metal allergies, evaluate the association of metal allergies and dental implants, and review alternative solutions.
Titanium Dental Implants
Dental implants are an excellent solution for replacing missing teeth. They function and appear quite similarly to the natural teeth and are nearly indiscernible. Implants work by using a screw-like titanium post to replace the root of the missing tooth, in addition to replacing the visible portion of the tooth which exists above the gums.
Titanium has the unique ability to effectively and permanently fuse to natural bone in the human body. As a result of this, it is the most common material to use for dental implants. This property of titanium was initially discovered in the 1950s. Just ten years later, it was used to create a dental implant. The metal is extensively tested and approved by the FDA as a safe medical-grade material, including its use in implants. The material is biocompatible and also commonly used in orthopedic knee and hip replacements. Dental implants are typically made from a pure titanium or a titanium alloy.
During the natural healing process, titanium implants permanently fuse to the bone through a process called osseointegration. When patients practice good oral hygiene and care for the implant, they have an incredibly high success rate over 95% and function similar to the natural teeth. Because of the high success rate, acceptance in the body and longevity, titanium is the preferred material for dental implants.
Unfortunately, this can cause issues for patients with a metal allergy if they are interested in pursuing dental implants as a tooth-replacement solution. A reported 13% of the population is sensitive to nickel, cobalt or chromium. These three metals are the most common type of metal allergy. When there is chronic inflammation or a rash appears around the implant site, it often suggests that an allergy is present. While it is possible, materials used for dental procedures have a low chance of failure or negative side effects.
For patients who are concerned with the possibility of having a metal allergy prior to receiving dental implants, a physician or allergist is able to perform a skin test. This can aid in alleviating the concerns and help ensure the success of the implant procedure.
Titanium Allergy Symptoms & Tests
An allergy is defined as an overreaction the body's immune system to a specific substance. In some cases, the allergic response is just a minor rash, but in others it could be life-threatening and cause the body’s organ systems to shut down. Unfortunately, it is possible for patients to be allergic to virtually anything, which includes metals.
In most cases, metal allergies are specific to certain types of metals. As an example, approximately 17% of women and 3% of men are reportedly allergic to nickel. The other types of metals people are commonly allergic to include cobalt and chromium, however these types of allergies are less common. Allergic reactions to metal typically occur from external contact, such as jewelry. These allergies often result in a rash or other skin anomaly. An allergy that occurs to metal used in a body replacement part could result in a rejection.
Through the history of dentistry, various metals have played a critical role in dental care. More specifically, dental amalgam is commonly used for fillings in the teeth. Dental amalgam is a combination of precious metals such as gold or silver and combined with other metals such as copper, tin and very small amounts of mercury. Dental amalgam has been successful and safely used for many years, however, there are rare cases of reported allergic reactions.
In some cases, patients are unsure or unaware of having an allergy to titanium. Common symptoms associated with a titanium allergy specific to a dental implant include hives and bumps in the mouth, dry patches inside the mouth, gum inflammation around the implant, and sores or swelling.
A test called MELISA can be used to detect the presence of a titanium allergy. The MELISA test is a blood test which isolates the white blood cells, exposes them to titanium, and measures the immune system’s response. This test is far more accurate than the traditional skin test and is the recommended method for titanium allergy testing prior to the implant procedure.
Zirconia Implants: Metal-Free Implant Alternative
Zirconia implants can be used for patients who have a known allergy to titanium and want a solution for their missing teeth. Zirconia implants were first were developed in 1987, and are now approved by the FDA for use. This material is a non-metallic ceramic and excellent option for patients with known metal allergies.
Some of the key benefits associated with zirconia implants include the following:
- Attractive and made from a naturally white material
- Corrosion resistant
- Hygienic, resistant to plaque accumulation
- Inert, low risk for an allergic reaction
- Strong & durable
Although it is incredibly rare, patients can be allergic to both zirconia and titanium. If both allergies exist or the patient wants to pursue other options, a dental bridge is a great option for restoring missing teeth. Bridges work by using two crowns to support one or more false teeth. The bridge fills in the gaps of the missing teeth. Because they do not require the surgical placement of a titanium or zirconia implant into the gum tissue, bridges do not result in allergic reactions. They have been used for many used and are a long-lasting and natural-looking method for restoring the smile.
Patients with a metal allergy are often curious if they can still qualify as candidates for dental implants. Fortunately, even patients with a metal allergy can still receive dental implants.
Patients who are concerned with a potential allergy to titanium or other metals should undergo testing to determine if there is a reaction prior to receiving an implant. In most cases, patients are not allergic to titanium and are able to proceed with the dental implant procedure. Follow up with your dentist to discuss the implant procedure and help determine if you may benefit from being tested for a metal allergy.