The Benefits of White Fillings
The question of whether to use amalgam or composite material when filling cavities is important to consider carefully. Amalgam fillings are the silver colored fillings, and have been used for over a hundred years. The more popular composite fillings are white, and made their way into common practice a little over three decades ago. For many, cost is the deciding factor when choosing which material to fill their cavities with. Amalgam fillings tend to be half of the cost of composite. Insurance plans typically cover the cost of amalgam while most plans will cover only a portion of the cost of composite fillings, but white fillings offer a range of benefits that may make them well worth the expenditure.
One of the benefits that has made composite fillings a more popular choice is aesthetics. Dentists are able to match the color of composite material very closely to your other teeth. Like natural teeth, composites can develop stains over time. Sealing the filling with a protective plastic layer helps to prevent this. White fillings mean that dental restoration work will be less visible when you smile.
Metal amalgam fillings begin as a highly visible silver, but they can quickly corrode, turning black. This makes them not only very visible, but also gives your teeth an unhealthy appearance. They can even discolor the entire tooth.
Tooth Structure Preservation
Even though restorations in molars are less visible and you might not be swayed by the the aesthetic argument, it is often still better to use composite in order to preserve the structure of your tooth. Amalgam fillings usually need larger holes to be placed in and may require the removal of some of the tooth. Composite fillings have less size restrictions and often require less drilling, thereby preserving more of the tooth’s structure.
In the past, composites were primarily used to fill smaller cavities in order to avoid making unnecessarily large holes. They were not used in larger cavities because they were more easily cracked or broken than amalgam, and did not last as long. Technological advancements in the last decade have closed the gap. The strength of white fillings is now comparable to amalgam.
Composite fillings are composed of a mixture of tooth-colored plastic and ceramic. This material bonds with the tooth, effectively sealing out bacteria and particles. Amalgam is typically made from silver, zinc, and mercury to create a stable metal alloy. Although mercury is known to have a negative impact on health, the ADA and FDA assert that the mercury in this alloy is not a health risk. This remains controversial, and we know that mercury doesn’t stay in the fillings. It is perhaps telling that the EPA has proposed tough new standards to prevent mercury from fillings contaminating water supplies. If we don’t want it in our lakes and streams, do we really want it in our mouths?
Metal fillings can also cause thermal sensitivities in some people because metal is a thermal conductor. These sensitivities are often temporary, but can be long-lasting in some individuals. Another concern with amalgam fillings is thermal expansion. Amalgam fillings will expand or contract more than composite fillings, often causing cracks to form in the filling or the tooth.
Upkeep and Repairs
Damage and imperfections are easier to repair with composite fillings. Chips and cracks can be repaired more easily because added composite material will bond well with both the existing filling and the tooth to create a protective seal. Flaws discovered in follow-up visits are also easier to fix. When amalgam fillings are flawed or damaged, they often need to be replaced because amalgam does not form this same bond.
Making Your Decision
It’s also worth noting that many people opt for a third choice: ceramic fillings–called inlays and onlays–that are stronger and more attractive than either metal amalgam or composite fillings.
Whichever material you choose, it will be a part of your mouth for many years to come. Although it is often an important factor in your final choice, don’t let money make the decision for you. Think about the aesthetic needs of your mouth, how often you consume hot or cold foods and drinks, and the size of the cavity itself. Composite fillings may be more suited to the needs of your mouth than amalgam fillings.
If you want to learn more about how composite fillings could benefit you, please call 303-759-5652 today for an appointment with a Denver dentist at Park Meadows Dental Care.