Small endosseous implants, such as screws, are important components of modern orthopedics and dentistry. Hence they have to reliably fulfill a variety of requirements, which makes the development of such implants challenging. Finite element analysis is a widely used computational tool used to analyze and optimize implant stability in bone. For these purposes, bone is generally modeled as a continuum material. However, bone failure and bone adaptation processes are occurring at the discrete level of individual trabeculae; hence the assessment of stresses and strains at this level is relevant. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate how peri-implant strain distribution and load transfer between implant and bone are affected by the continuum assumption. We performed a computational study in which cancellous screws were inserted in continuum and discrete models of trabecular bone; axial loading was simulated. We found strong differences in bone-implant stiffness between the discrete and continuum bone model. They depended on bone density and applied boundary conditions. Furthermore, load transfer from the screw to the surrounding bone differed strongly between the continuum and discrete models, especially for low-density bone. Based on our findings we conclude that continuum bone models are of limited use for finite element analysis of peri-implant mechanical loading in trabecular bone when a precise quantification of peri-implant stresses and strains is required. Therefore, for the assessment and improvement of trabecular bone implants, finite element models which accurately represent trabecular microarchitecture should be used.
Keywords: Micro-finite element (μFE) analysis; Bone microstructure; Peri-implant bone quality; Implant stability