While dental implants typically have a success rate of 98 percent, they can still fail for a variety of reasons. One possible reason for implant failure is an allergy to the metal used to make the dental implant post. If you're planning on getting dental implants to replace missing teeth or are experiencing issues with existing implants, here's what you need to know about a titanium allergies.
Prevalence of Titanium Allergies
Titanium is the preferred metal for dental implants because it's strong, bonds well with the bone, and generally doesn't cause patients problems. Although the material has been used for dental implants since the 1950s, it's only recently the issue of possible allergic reactions to titanium has cropped up.
Since the problem has not been studied very well, statistics about titanium allergies are difficult to come by. It's believed about 5 percent of the population has an allergy to some type of metal, with nickel being the most common allergen in this group. An estimated 17 percent of women and 3 percent of men experienced adverse reactions after coming into contact with it. One study conducted between 2002 and 2004 found 9 out of 1,500 people had a reaction to titanium.
It's important to note, though, the titanium used in dental implants is an alloy, which means it's mixed with other metals to increase its strength and durability. Typically, titanium is combined with nickel and/or cobalt but may also be mixed with iron, zinc, and copper. Any of these other metals could be the source of an allergic reaction rather than the titanium itself.
Symptoms of Titanium Allergy
People who have reported an allergic reaction to titanium have also relayed a wide and diverse array of symptoms. Actor Dick Van Dyke cited his dental implants as the source of his chronic headaches. Other symptoms associated with a titanium allergy include:
Many of these symptoms can have other causes. For instance, swelling and redness could be caused by gum disease or peri-implantitis. Other possible issues should be ruled out before settling on a titanium or metal allergy.
Testing for Allergies
Prior to approving a patient for dental implants, the dentist will usually test the person for metal allergies. One common way is to perform a skin test by rubbing a type of metallic salt on a small swatch of skin and watch for a reaction.
A less common, but possibly more accurate, option is to use the MELISA test, which is a blood test capable of detecting a hypersensitivity to a variety of allergens including metals, molds, environmental toxins, and chemicals. This test can identify whether you are allergic to the titanium or another compound (e.g. nickel) found in the implant.
Dental Implant Alternatives to Titanium
Testing positive for a titanium or metal allergy doesn't mean you can't get dental implants. If you're allergic to other metals in the alloy but not the titanium, you can work with your dentist to find an implant that doesn't contain the allergen. For instance, if you are allergic to nickel, you can search for a titanium implant that doesn't have this compound.
If titanium is the source of the problem, there are alternative materials that could be used. For instance, zirconium is a non-metal ceramic that has been successfully used for dental implants in recent years. Surgical stainless steel has also been used to craft dental implant posts.
To learn more about titanium allergies or to address an allergic reaction to your dental implants, connect with a knowledgeable dentist near you.
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