If you have silver fillings, also known as amalgam fillings, you may be considering what other alternatives are available to you. Many people dislike having metal colored teeth, and prefer their original tooth color. Composite fillings are a perfect answer to that need. They are tooth-colored and can be blended by your dentist to match the look of your tooth. In this article, we’ll look at the different types of fillings and why you might consider going with a white, or composite filling instead.
What is the difference between the two filling types?
A silver filling is made up of mercury, silver, copper, tin and zinc which creates a stable alloy that is used to fill cavities. Silver fillings are also called amalgam fillings. They have been used for more than 100 years to fill and preserve decayed teeth. Silver fillings are very durable, typically lasting 10 to 15 years and are strong enough to withstand chewing forces. They also are less expensive than many other forms of fillings, but do not match the natural color of the teeth.
Composite fillings, or white fillings, are made of a resin, or from ceramics or glass ionomer. Ceramics offers the strength to last 15 or more years, but can be as costly as a gold filling. Composite fillings are becoming more and more popular as having a beautiful smile is the most important thing for many patients.
How does a filling work?
When a dentist identifies a spot of decay on the tooth, they will often have to create a filling to prevent further decay. To treat a cavity, the dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth and then fill the cavity with a filling material. This helps prevent the spread of more decay and restores the teeth to its full function. Fillings can also repair cracked or broken teeth, or teeth that have been worn down through nail biting or tooth grinding.
A local anesthetic is applied to numb the area around the tooth. Next, a drill, or air abrasion instrument, or even a laser, will be used to remove the decayed area. The choice of tool depends on the dentist’s skill and training, as well as the location and extent of the cavity.
Then, the dentist will check to see if all the decay was removed. Once satisfied there is no more remaining decay, the dentist will clean the space to prepare it for filling. Then, after the filling the dentist will finish and polish the tooth.
Silver amalgam fillings and white composite fillings each are applied in different ways. Silver amalgam fillings are made after liquid mercury is mixed with the other metals and then applied to the tooth, where it quickly sets. White composite fillings are applied in a series of layers. After each layer, a special high intensity light cures or hardens the layer. When the layering process is complete the dentist will shape the composite material to the shape of your tooth and then trim and polish the final restoration.
Disadvantages of Amalgam fillings
Silver amalgam fillings, while offering the advantage of low cost, come with some pretty hefty disadvantages. They are not aesthetically pleasing and many people prefer to have their natural tooth color. They also can discolor the tooth, creating a grayish hue in the surrounding tooth structure. Silver amalgam fillings also require more destruction of the tooth, as healthy parts of the tooth may need to be removed in order for there to be enough room for the amalgam.
Additionally, teeth naturally expand and contract due to cold and warm liquids. When you have a silver amalgam filling, cracks and fractures can appear around the amalgam material. Silver amalgam fillings can experience a wider degree of expansion and contraction, leading to more cracks and fissures.
Because silver amalgam fillings are made with elemental mercury, it carries with it some risk. The mercury used in the filing can become a vapor, that when inhaled, can lead to major damage to the brain and kidneys. The FDA has found no link between the silver amalgam fillings and health problems, and considers them safe for adults and children over 6. Additionally, for a small percentage of people, the mercury used in silver amalgam fillings may cause an allergic reaction.
The FDA has recently made a statement saying “Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses” and “Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner.” There simply isn’t enough data available for the FDA to make an accurate evaluation on the effect of silver amalgam fillings and fetal and infant health.
When considering silver amalgam fillings, talk with your doctor to make sure that you have considered all your options, and listen to their recommendation.
Advantages of Composite Fillings
White composite fillings offer the strong advantage of matching the natural color of your teeth. If you’re like most people, then you’ve spent good money on making sure you have a healthy smile. Why ruin it with a silver filling, when you can preserve your smile with a white composite filling?
White composite fillings also bond to your tooth structure, helping create a stronger support for the filling. They also are extremely versatile and are used to repair worn, chipped, or broken teeth. They also spare healthy tooth structure, as less needs to be removed in order for the filling to be prepared and set.
Other white fillings exist on the market, like glass ionomer. Glass ionomer is made of acrylic and a specific kind of glass. The glass ionomer actually releases fluoride, which helps protect the tooth from further decay. However, glass ionomer has a short durability, lasting five or fewer years, but newer ones have a better lifespan.
While composite fillings may require a slightly longer visit, due to the setting process, the advantages they offer are huge. Consider a white composite filling next time your doctor informs you that you need to have a filling to help preserve your wonderful smile.