Some form of dental care has existed for thousands of years. Cavities in the teeth must be filled in order to keep them from getting larger and spreading decay. Ancient skeletal remains have been found with the cavities filled with beeswax. Today, dentists and their patients have more choices of materials to fill cavities. The fillings most commonly used are resin-based composite fillings, or “white fillings” and fillings made of metal amalgam, “silver fillings”. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types.
Metal amalgam fillings
Metal amalgam fillings have been used for over 150 years. According to the National Dental Association, dental amalgam is an alloy. It is a combination of several metals, including silver, copper, tin and mercury. The amalgam filling is held in place by the shape of the cavity.
Advantages of metal amalgam fillings:
- Dental amalgam fillings are strong and durable. They are more resistant to decay around the edges and are less inclined to break.
- These fillings are useful when working in difficult to reach areas of the mouth.
- It is the most economical type of filling material.
Disadvantages of metal amalgam fillings:
- A dental amalgam filling is limited by size and can be a problem if the cavity is too small to establish the necessary hold and strength.
- These type tend to shrink and expand, which may lead to tooth breakage or stress fractures.
- Many patients do not like the look of silver on their teeth. Over time, the filling may tarnish, leaving the tooth darker.
Composite fillings have been used for approximately 40 years. They are made of a plastic resin that is soft in the beginning, but cures to full strength after it is exposed to the blue range on a light spectrum.
The Advantages of Composite Resin Fillings:
- These work well on small to medium sized cavities.
- Not as much of the tooth structure is removed, so there is less drilling.
- People like the way they look because they can match your natural tooth color. It is particularly suited for teeth that are visible.
- They bond to the tooth well, which reduces the chance of breakage.
- In the event of damage, they can be repaired.
The Disadvantages of Composite Resin Fillings:
- These are softer and may wear out more quickly than metal options, particularly if you grind your teeth.
- Placement of composite fillings is a little more labor intensive and you may have some tooth sensitivity for a short time after the procedure.
- Although they look more natural, the composite fillings can be stained if you regularly consume tea, coffee, red wine and similar foods. They may also be affected by long term exposure to some forms of alcohol.
- Composite resin fillings are more expensive than the amalgam fillings. Your dental insurance company may limit coverage to your visible teeth. They may also have higher co-payments or additional costs for these. Check with your insurance company for details.
When choosing a filling material, you will need to consider factors such as the location and size of the cavity, the cost of the material, and your insurance coverage. The team of dental professionals at Anthony Martin Dentistry can assist you in making the right choice for you, based on your insurance needs and lifestyle requirements. To make an appointment, contact us at (757) 886-0300.