Although Rare, Allergic Reactions to the Metal in Implants Could be a Concern
You’re considering dental implants and you’ve done your homework: you know they’re considered the best tooth replacements available prized for durability and life-likeness. But you do have one concern — you have a metal allergy and you’re not sure how your body will react to the implant’s titanium and other trace metals.
An allergy is the body’s defensive response against any substance (living or non-living) perceived as a threat. Allergic reactions can range from a mild rash to rare instances of death due to multiple organ system shutdowns.
A person can become allergic to anything, including metals. An estimated 17% of women and 3% of men are allergic to nickel, while 1-3% of the general population to cobalt and chromium. While most allergic reactions occur in contact with consumer products (like jewelry) or metal-based manufacturing, some occur with metal medical devices or prosthetics, including certain cardiac stents and hip or knee replacements.
There are also rare cases of swelling or rashes in reaction to metal fillings, commonly known as dental amalgam. A mix of metals — mainly mercury with traces of silver, copper and tin — dental amalgam has been used for decades with the vast majority of patients experiencing no reactions. Further, amalgam has steadily declined in use in recent years as tooth-colored composite resins have become more popular.
Which brings us to dental implants: the vast majority are made of titanium alloy. Titanium is preferred in implants not only because it’s biocompatible (it “gets along” well with the body’s immune system), but also because it’s osteophilic, having an affinity with living bone tissue that encourages bone growth around and attached to the titanium. Both of these qualities make titanium a rare trigger for allergies even for people with a known metal allergy.
Still, implant allergic reactions do occur, although in only 0.6% of all cases, or six out of a thousand patients. The best course, then, is to let us know about any metal allergies you may have (or other systemic conditions, for that matter) during our initial consultation for implants. Along with that and other information, we'll be better able to advise you on whether implants are right for you.
If you would like more information on the effects of metal allergies on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”