Teeth that are decayed, cracked, or worn may need to be restored through the use of dental fillings. When it comes to filling teeth, a dentist has different options for materials to use that restore tooth strength and function. The most commonly used types of dental fillings are amalgam and composite. While amalgam fillings may be cheaper, the newer composite fillings offer some advantages that should be considered.
What Are Amalgam Fillings?
Amalgam fillings are the traditional silver-colored fillings made from an amalgam of different metals, including silver, tin, copper, and mercury. Mercury has the potential to lead to toxicity, even in small amounts, though there is no research to show that the mercury used in dental fillings leads to an increase in health risks. Amalgam fillings are easier for the dentist to place, cost less, and may last a little bit longer. However, due to appearance and potential sensitivity to the metals, many people choose to have their amalgam fillings removed to be replaced with composite fillings.
What Are Composite Fillings?
Composite fillings are made to best match the shade of the tooth being restored, making them the preferred choice for front teeth. Composite fillings are a type of resin made from a combination of acrylic plastics, glass or quartz, and special coloring agents to match the teeth. New advances make composite fillings as strong and durable as traditional amalgam. While this type of filling takes more skill for the dentist to use when restoring a tooth that has been decayed or damage, there are several benefits with the final results.
Composite versus Amalgam Fillings
In the past, amalgam fillings were stronger and lasted longer than composite fillings. With advances in dentistry over the years, composite fillings have become strong enough to be used even on the grinding surfaces of back teeth. While there is still a chance that amalgam fillings may last just a little longer than composite fillings on back teeth, there are many more advantages to choosing composite fillings overall.
Better appearance. When looking at repaired teeth, most people cannot even see where composite fillings have been used, while amalgam fillings are strikingly obvious to see.
Contain no metals. Some people may be allergic or have sensitivities to certain types of metal. There is no such risk when using tooth-colored fillings.
Bond with teeth. The materials used in composite fillings can bond with existing tooth structure for a secure seal and more comfortable fit. Composite can also be used to build up teeth cusps and cover weak areas in addition to being used for filling teeth.
Ready to use. Composite fillings are hardened in the dentist office so they can be used immediately. With amalgam fillings, care must be taken for the first 24 hours while the materials finish hardening.
Safer for teeth. When larger areas of the tooth need to be replaced, amalgam fillings may put additional stress on remaining tooth structure over time, leading to cracks or breaks. Composite fillings not only bond with the existing tooth structure, but are more flexible to reduce strain on the teeth. Additionally, less natural tooth structure needs to be removed when preparing teeth for filling when using composite than for amalgam fillings.