Getting a filling can be an intimidating experience no matter how comfortable you are at the dentist office. Patients often don’t understand what the difference is between the many options presented by their oral health care provider, and with developing technologies now more than ever there are multiple options when it comes to getting a cavity filled.
What is a composite filling?
A composite filling is a resin that resembles the natural color of teeth. The resin is tooth-colored and is used to help restore small to medium sized cavities or decay in the teeth. They are able to withstand the pressure and stress of chewing. They are used on the front or back teeth, and are an excellent choice for people who prefer their fillings to look more natural.
A composite filling is placed by thoroughly cleaning the tooth and then drying the area to be filled. The composite is then placed in layers and hardened using a special high frequency light. The process continues layer by layer until the cavity is filled. Then, the composite is polished to help prevent staining and early wear.
Composites have a clear advantage over amalgam fillings, as they help preserve your natural smile. The process is also quick, and can often be done in a single visit to the dentist. They also bond with the remaining structure of the tooth to help prevent further breaking, and to insulate the teeth from excessive temperature changes. Your dentist can even blend the different shades of the composite used to match the shade of your natural tooth. A clear plastic coating can be applied to help prevent staining that may occur when eating staining foods, like coffee or tea. Composites do tend to wear out sooner in large cavities, but they hold up just as well in small cavities.
Composite fillings tend to cost more than amalgam fillings, and may not be covered by all insurances. Be sure to check with your provider to see what their coverage options will be. As composites improve, more insurance companies are likely to increase their coverage of composites.
What is an amalgam filling?
Dental amalgam is a filling material used to fill cavities, and has been used for more than 150 years. It tends to be a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid mercury and a powdered allow composted of silver, tin, and copper. Around half of the amalgam is mercury by weight. The mercury is used to react with and bind together the other metals present to form the amalgam.
After drilling the tooth to remove the decay, the dentist prepares the amalgam in the appropriate safety conditions. They mix the powdered alloy with the liquid mercury to form the amalgam putty. The softened putty is placed and shaped in the cavity to where it rapidly hardens to form a filling.
The amalgam offers a strong and long-lasting filling that is less likely to break than some other types of fillings. Dental amalgam is also the least expensive type of filling material. But, it does carry with it some risks
The elemental mercury in the amalgam filling can release low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled. Mercury can accumulate in the body, causing damage to the brain and kidneys. According to the FDA website: “High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys”. However, the amount of mercury vapor one is exposed to through a filling is deemed within tolerable limits by the FDA. Dental amalgam fillings are considered safe for adults and children older than 6. Because of limited data, the FDA is unable to determine if the amount of mercury vapor released by dental amalgam can adversely affect fetus development and infants who are breastfed.
Why are composite fillings better?
Composite fillings offer two big advantages over amalgam fillings: you get to retain your natural smile, and they do not contain any elemental mercury. While the levels present in amalgam fillings are not deemed harmful, they still pose a concern to anyone who may be allergic to mercury or any of the other metals present in the amalgam, and the effects are unknown when it comes to fetus development and to infants who are breastfed.
Composite fillings are a fantastic choice for keeping your smile looking natural and healthy. The application is painless, and they can be blended to match your natural tooth color. While there may be a great cost involved, many insurance companies may start to cover the cost as stronger composites are developed and their use becomes more widespread.
Your smile is your signature, and many people want to preserve the signature they were born with, or have spent hundreds of dollars on perfecting. Even those of us who keep up with their regular oral hygiene routine may develop a cavity. Don’t let a single cavity undo all that work!
The best filling is no filling
Truly, having no cavity to fill is the best way to go, and practicing a regular oral care habit can help ensure that your teeth remain strong and healthy throughout your lifetime. By maintaining your oral health, you protect and perfect your natural smile. Follow these steps to keep a healthy smile:
- Brush twice a day, or more if eating sweet or sticky foods.
- Floss at least once a day to help remove plaque build up from between the teeth.
- Use a fluoridated toothpaste to help rebuild your tooth enamel.
- Brush with short, even strokes, being sure to reach every tooth surface.
- Avoid damaging foods, like sugary drinks, and habits that help destroy your teeth, like smoking.
- Visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups at least once every six months.
Following these tips will help ensure that you are able to keep your fabulous smile for your lifetime. If you are stuck between choosing an amalgam or a composite filling, keep in mind the facts and options presented in this article to help you with your decision. Consult with your doctor to help you find the right solution for your oral health.