Zirconia-based restorative materials were introduced in dentistry almost two decades ago. The first-generation zirconia, Y-TZP, was and still is used as a dental framework material to replace traditional metal. It is a 3-5 mol% yttria-stabilized tetragonal zirconia polycrystalline ceramic.  There are varying compositions of the material and subsequent mechanical properties based on the manufacturing of the material. This is true for all generations of zirconia available today. 

In general, the first-generation material has the highest flexural strength (900-1,200 MPa) fracture toughness (9-10 MPa/m0.5), and fracture resistance (>2000 N). It undergoes transformation toughening, is glass-free so it cannot be etched conventionally, and is opaque.  Because it is opaque, it should be used as a framework with a glass ceramic layer to achieve the desired esthetic outcome. 

The second-generation Y-TZP is slightly more translucent because it has a decreased alumina content (0.05 wt%). The flexural strength is decreased to 800 to 1000 MPa.

The most recent form of zirconia-based material is the third generation Y-ZP, a 5-10 mol% yttria-stabilized polycrystalline ceramic. It has a cubic phase of 10-50% and does not undergo transformation toughening. The flexural strength drops to 500-800 MPa, although it is significantly more translucent. The degree of translucency is dependent on the manufacturer formulation. 

With the increase in translucency, it can now be used as a monolithic restorative material. All three generations of materials have similar wear characteristics to enamel, showing virtually no wear. 

The questions often posed are: “Can zirconia be bonded?” and “Why would you need to bond?”  Bonding any restorative material is indicated when there needs to be an increase in retention.  Bonding also improves marginal adaptation, minimizes microleakage and increases the fracture resistance of the restored tooth and restorative material.1 The indications for bonding a restoration are:

  • Compromised resistance and retention form of the preparation
  • An over-tapered preparation
  • Short axial walls
  • Partial coverage
  • Weaker ceramic materials

After reviewing the literature on bonding to zirconia, the most common method includes airborne-particle abrasion with 50-micron aluminum oxide with application of a primer containing 10-meethacryloxydeyl dihydrogen phosphate (MDP) or functional methacrylate.  Airborne-particle abrasion cleans the surface, reducing organic contaminants that get on the surface during try-in of the restoration. The abrasion increases surface roughness, increasing micromechanical retention.

Alumina remains embedded in the surface, so ultrasonic cleaning is not recommended. It is believed the remaining alumina increases chemical bonding to the adhesive. The air-abrasion also increases the surface energy, producing better wettability. 

The steps in the bonding technique are2:

  1. Airborne-particle abrasion
    • 50-micron aluminum oxide
    • 1-2 bar (15-30 psi) pressure
    • 10 mm from the surface moving in a circular pattern perpendicular to each surface (crowns have 5 surfaces)
    • 5-10 seconds per surface
  2. Apply MDP or functional methacrylate containing primer/adhesive following the manufacturer directions
    • Examples:  Clearfil Ceramic Primary - Kuraray Noritake Dental, and Monobond Plus – Ivoclar Vivadent
  3. Apply resin cement – dual or autopolymerizing
    • Examples:  Parvia SA – Kuraray Noritake Dental, Multilink Automix – Ivoclar Vivadent

Using this protocol, research has shown the bond strength to a first generation zirconia (Katana HT), third generation zirconia (Katana UTML), and lithium disilicate (e.max CAD LT) are statistically the same for both short and long-term thermocycling3.

  • Katana HT:  34.22 MPa day 1, 28.37 MPa after 150 days
  • Katana UTML: 35.04 MPa day 1, 25.03 MPa after 150 days
  • e.max CAD LT: 35.05 MPa day 1, 22.32 MPa after 150 days

Remember, there are two significant variables that must be considered when bonding to zirconia.

  1. Not all zirconia materials are formulated and manufactured in the same manner, with significant variations in the quality of the zirconia.
  2. Using a precise clinical technique is essential to establishing the best bond.  The literature shows that human error is the most common reason for clinical failures. 


  1. Sorrensen JA, Kang SH, Avera SP. Porcelain-composite interface microleakage with various porcelain surface treatments.  Dent Mat 1991,7:118-123.
  2. Blatz MB, Alvarez M, Sawyer K, Brindis M. How to bond zirconia: The APC concept. Compendium 2016; 37(9):611-617.
  3. Kwon SJ, Lawson NC, McLaren EE, Nejat HH, Burgess JO.  Comparison of the mechanical properties of translucent zirconia and lithium disilicate.  J Prosthet Dent 2018, Jul; 120(1):132-137.

(Click the link for more articles by Dr. Bob Winter.)  

Bob Winter, D.D.S., Spear Faculty and Contributing Author


Commenter's Profile Image Andrew H.
January 10th, 2019
How does the methacrylate/MDP help in improving bonding vs just using a regular silane ie Pulpdent silane? Does just using a regular silane agent better than nothing?
Commenter's Profile Image Robert W.
January 13th, 2019
Placing silane on the surface of zirconia does not have any positive affect on enhancing the bond to composite resin. The research shows using a product with MDP or functional monomer is required in order to bond to zirconia.