During the last few decades, dental supply manufacturers from all over the world have introduced many different types of dental raw materials. Some did well initially but eventually faded, some never saw the light of day, and some skyrocketed, specifically zirconia. Today, all things considered, zirconia is the best material for dental restorations.
What Is Zirconia?
Zirconia consists of zirconium dioxide, which has the highest mechanical strength and fracture resistance of all non-metallic materials. Besides the strength, the other main reason it is widely favored in medical devices is due to its superior surface smoothness. In addition to medical prosthetics, zirconia has been widely used across industry and markets in such products as watches, knives, jewelry, valves, gears, and pumps, to name a few.
Zirconia in Dentistry Today
Zirconia is the most recent arrival in dental materials. It only became popular when CAD/CAM was introduced in the dental laboratory process in the 2000s. Until about 2009, when gold prices soared, zirconia had only a small share of the market in dentistry. Then, as an alternative to expensive gold crowns, dental zirconia ceramic became a more popular choice among restorative dentists.
If multilayer zirconia is the best material, then why wasn’t it used much before? It’s simple. Most mom-and-pop local dental labs could not afford to invest in high-tech, computerized, advanced CAD/CAM systems. Additionally, most of those small labs did not have the skill or knowledge to use the new technology.
Three Popular Variations
Most zirconia in the market today shares a very similar composition. However, the manufacturing process differs slightly depending on the purpose of the zirconia. For example:
Solid or monolithic zirconia with full compressed blanks to get the maximum strength (1,100 to 1,200 MPa)
Lightly compressed zirconia to accommodate medium translucency of anterior restorations (700 to 850 MPa)
Full zirconia framework stacked with zirconia powder (layered zirconia) to accommodate maximum aesthetics for anterior translucency
There are many different types of zirconia for dentistry today, and it’s confusing because of the many brand names. I receive many calls from our clients asking about this brand and that brand, but my answer is always the same.
Regardless of what they call it, most zirconia shares a similar composition. However, it differs according to the manufacturing process, which affects two main characteristics: strength and translucency (or opacity).
For example, the opacity of the dental zirconia blank is directly proportional to the strength. In other words, the strongest zirconia blanks are the most opaque they will be. Therefore, if you need the highest translucency (the least opaque blank) for your anterior restorations, the strength is significantly compromised. Still, it may be stronger than other non-metallic dental raw materials.
Why Dental Zirconia Is the Best Material
There are three reasons why zirconia is the best material for dental restorations, primarily based on a comparison of metal-containing products, such as porcelain fused to metal, a full metal crown, and titanium. By comparison, zirconia is much more aesthetic, lasts longer, and is even more biocompatible. However, there are a few downsides as well.