When a section of tooth has been damaged by decay or a cavity, your dentist may recommend a dental filling. During this dental procedure, the decaying tooth material is removed and the area is filled in with material to restore the look and function of the tooth. Dental fillings can also be used to repair cracked or broken teeth, or teeth that have been worn down.
There are many different materials that can be used as a dental filling, for example, gold, porcelain, silver amalgam (a mixture of mercury, silver, tin, zinc, and copper), or tooth-colored plastic, and composite resin fillings.
The location of the decayed tooth, the extent of the decay, the cost of the filling material, the patient’s insurance coverage, and the dentist’s recommendation will help determine the type of filling that is best for you. What you, as the patient, want in terms of look, feel, cost or durability also helps determine the type of dental filling. To help you decide what dental filling will suit your needs, below is a list of the advantages and disadvantages of each common dental filling material.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Common Dental Filling Materials
- Gold is a durable material, which means the fillings tend to last between 10 to 15 years because they don’t corrode.
- Gold can withstand the daily forces acted on it by chewing
- Some patients find gold aesthetically pleasing
- Gold cast fillings tend to be more expensive than other dental fillings.
- These fillings normally take at least two dental visits to fit correctly.
- Gold fillings that are placed next to silver amalgam fillings can cause galvanic shock, a sharp pain, in the mouth. This is caused because the two metals interact with saliva and cause an electric current.
- Most patients prefer fillings that match the color of their teeth, e.g. tooth colored plastic fillings.
- Silver Amalgam Fillings
- Silver amalgam fillings last up to 10 to 15 years
- They can withstand chewing forces
- Are sometimes less expensive than composite fillings
- Silver fillings have poor aesthetic value as they do not match the color of natural teeth.
- A large amount of healthy tooth is often removed to make enough space to hold the amalgam filling.
- Amalgam fillings tend to discolor, which can create a grayish hue to the surrounding tooth structure.
- Amalgam materials, when compared with other filling materials, experience a greater degree of expansion and contraction when exposed to hot and cold temperatures, which can lead to higher incidence of cracks and fractures in the tooth.
- A small percentage of people are allergic to the mercury present in amalgam fillings.
- The mercury in these fillings releases low levels of the chemical element in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs, which can cause disease. However, studies have found no link between amalgam fillings and health problems. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) considers them safe for adults and children above the age of 6.
- The color of the composite fillings can be closely matched to the color of existing teeth.
- Composite fillings are chemically bonded to the tooth, which provides greater structural support.
- Besides being used as a filling material for decay, composite fillings can be used to repair chipped, broken, or worn teeth.
- Little healthy tooth structure is removed to bond the filling to the tooth.
- Composite fillings are not as durable as metal fillings and only last around 5 years.
- They do not withstand chewing forces as well as amalgam fillings, particularly in a large cavity.
- The process of applying the composite material takes up to 20 minutes longer than amalgam fillings.
- Composite materials can chip off the tooth, depending on their location.
- These fillings are often the more expensive than amalgam fillings.
Although it may seem difficult to decide whether to choose between durability or aesthetics; with the help and guidance of your dentist, you are guaranteed to receive the dental filling that is best for your future oral health.