It’s happened to just about all of us. At your semi-annual dental check-up, you hear the words “you have a cavity.” It’s unfortunate. But it’s not a catastrophe because you know there is a fix for a cavity — a dental filling.
Ever since dentistry began, dentists have been filling cavities. In modern times, the most common filling material has been amalgam: a combination of several metals, such as silver, mercury, zinc, and copper. Amalgam has been popular for fillings for nearly a century because it’s strong, long-lasting, and much more affordable than the only alternative that was available: gold.
Now, there’s another option to an amalgam filling that’s gaining a following for a variety of reasons — the composite filling.
What are the differences between an amalgam filling and a resin filling?
When amalgam fillings were introduced, they were a welcomed option to a gold filling. A gold tooth was quite noticeable when you talked, ate, or even smiled, and the cost of a gold filling could be prohibitive. The combination of metals used in an amalgam filling, while replacing the glint of gold with a hint of silver, was more affordable by far than gold. Still, anyone who saw you would likely see them.
Enter the composite resin filling: today’s option for a dental filling that only you and your dentist need to know about. Introduced in the 1960s and continually adjusted and improved, composite fillings are made of a combination of soft, shapeable ceramic and plastic that is applied to the cavity then “cured” with a bright blue light.
Both amalgam and composite fillings do the job they’re intended to do — they fill in the “cavity” in your tooth. There are differences, however. The biggest difference between amalgam and composite fillings is visibility.
What are the advantages of a composite filling?
No one wants their smile to offer a glint of metal; whether it’s silver or gold doesn’t really matter. Still, everyone wants their fillings to be strong enough to handle the wear and tear of chewing for as long as possible. A good composite filling will definitely fit that bill, with some other advantages added on.
Advantage #1: Invisibility. Amalgam fillings are one color — silver. And silver in your mouth is noticeable, regardless of where the filling may be. On the other hand, composite fillings start out white, which by itself is hardly noticeable on most teeth. Better yet, composite filling material can be colored to match your natural teeth, which we know are never pure white. This makes composite fillings a much better choice for teeth in the front of your mouth (the ones that everyone sees when you smile).
Advantage #2: Preservation. Getting a filling means “filling in” a cavity, which is a hole in your tooth. Counterintuitively, though, we have to drill out the decay in your tooth – making a bigger hole – in order to accommodate a filling. Both amalgam and composite fillings require some drilling, but the malleability of the composite material requires less, so the maximum amount of your tooth is preserved.
Advantage #3: Sensitivity. Amalgam fillings have been around for over a century, and they work well. However, many people notice a sensitivity to temperature with an amalgam filling, and some people are allergic to the metals used. Additionally, depending on how many amalgam fillings a person has and how large they are, the amount of mercury in an amalgam filling may be of concern even though the level of mercury has been declared safe by the American Dental Association.
How can I choose between amalgam and composite fillings?
Of course, as in most situations, there is no clear winner between amalgam and composite fillings. They both do a good job of filling a cavity. There are two significant differences that you will want to consider before you make a choice: longevity and cost.
Filling a cavity should be a long-lasting “fix” because no one wants to endure the drilling and filling process any more often than necessary. When it comes to longevity, amalgam fillings are generally more durable than composite ones, lasting for 10 to 15 years if cared for. That’s why they are recommended for fillings in back teeth — especially molars — that are subjected to more of the rigors of chewing. Composite fillings last for five to seven years, so while they are an ideal choice for a filling in your smile, they are seldom the best choice for a filling in the harder-working teeth.
Filling a cavity is a “must-do” if you are to maintain your oral health. Depending on the size of the filling needed, cost can be a factor in your choice. An amalgam filling is likely to cost less than a composite filling because of the cost of the composite material, the demands of applying it, and the process of dying it to match your natural teeth. Particularly if you have an especially large cavity, or several cavities, the cost of composite fillings may be prohibitive. In addition, some dental insurance plans do not cover composite fillings at the same level as they cover amalgam fillings, or cover them not at all. You’ll want to check with your dental plan before you decide. (We may be able to help if your insurance isn’t enough.)
Composite fillings meet an important need when it comes to your appearance, though they’re not ideal for every situation. That’s why we encourage you to talk with us about your personal dental needs and how we can help you achieve the result you’re hoping for. You can contact us by phone or make an appointment on our website. We’re here to help!
Every human being can smile, and, like everything else, everyone’s smile is unique to them. It’s important for you to be satisfied with your smile. And if your smile isn’t as appealing as you’d like it to be, Lifetime Dental Health is here to help. Chipped, cracked, or discolored teeth aren’t attractive. They can cause you to stop smiling or make your smile smaller. But you don’t have to hide behind a less-than-pleasing smile when a simple procedure known as dental bonding can give you back the warm, welcoming smile you love.
What is dental bonding?
Dental bonding is a procedure in which we apply a durable plastic material called resin to a damaged tooth to improve the tooth’s appearance and resilience. We apply the resin (color-matched to your natural teeth) directly to the surface of a problem tooth and harden it. Once the resin is “cured” via blue light, the material is “bonded” to the tooth, and we can then file it smooth and shape it to blend with the natural teeth around it.
Of course, dental bonding isn’t a cure-all for every type of tooth damage, but for the right situation, it can be a quick and relatively inexpensive way to improve your smile. Depending on the level of damage, bonding can fill in gaps between teeth, hide roots revealed by receding gums, or build up a broken tooth. It is also often used to fill small cavities – especially ones in highly visible front teeth – because it’s less noticeable than silver or composite filling.
Why should I choose bonding to help my smile?
At Lifetime Dental Health, bonding is not the only cosmetic dentistry that could give you a winning smile, and there are advantages and disadvantages to any procedure. Although we encourage you to book a consultation with us to help determine the best solution for your situation, here’s a brief summary of four reasons why you might want to choose bonding.
It’s fast. Among the several different ways to solve chipped, cracked, or stained teeth, dental bonding is often the quickest route to take. Alternatives such as veneers and crowns require restructuring the target tooth in some way. This means that getting a veneer or a crown involves at least two — and sometimes three — visits to the dentist. Bonding can be a single visit procedure — from 30 to 60 minutes start to smiling finish.
It costs less. If you compare bonding to the most common alternatives, bonding will likely come out to be less expensive. In addition to the cost of multiple office visits, veneers and crowns require the expertise and equipment of a specialized laboratory along with the skills of our professional dentists. You’ll need to check your own dental policy, but most dental insurance plans cover dental bonding, especially for structural reasons or to fill a cavity.
It’s versatile. Other types of cosmetic dental procedures can accomplish much of what bonding can, except for filling in the small cavities that may occur in your smile. Although veneers and crowns can sometimes address cavities, both are more complex solutions than a simple filling. Like veneers, bonding can cover chipped, cracked, or discolored teeth, and unlike a veneer, it can serve as a filling alternative for small cavities, too.
It’s comfortable. Both veneers and crowns require removing some of the natural enamel on the target tooth. They both also usually involve anesthesia. Bonding only requires anesthesia if it’s being used to fill a cavity, so it is preferred by people who cannot be anesthetized or who would simply prefer not to be.
What are the disadvantages of bonding?
While bonding comes highly recommended, there are disadvantages to the procedure you’ll want to be aware of before making a decision.
Bonding will stain. One of the differences between veneers/crowns and bonding is that, just like your natural teeth, the resin used in bonding will stain. Bonding resin is porous, so smoking and coffee or tea can be especially hard on its surface. If your teeth are stained from something you’re doing, your bonding will eventually be stained, too.
Bonding can chip. Like the enamel of your natural teeth, the resin used in bonding is not as strong as the porcelain of a dental crown or veneer. It is nearly as easy to chip as your teeth are, so if some of your habits — chewing on ice or your fingernails — were the cause of the chips you’re bonding over, you may want to stop.
Do bonded teeth need special care?
You can maintain the good looks and health of your bonded teeth with your normal oral hygiene routine, but to make bonding last as long as possible (up to 10 years, depending on your habits), follow these helpful tips:
Decrease your intake of coffee, tea, red wine, and other dark-colored food and drinks, and rinse your teeth well after you finish them.
Stop chewing on hard candies, ice, large nuts, your pen or pencil, or your nails. This can chip bonding as easily as it chips natural teeth, and if bonding is damaged, it must be removed and reapplied.
Call us if you notice sharp edges on your bonded teeth or if your bite seems off after your teeth are bonded. If we catch a problem early, it can likely be repaired, or the bonding can be reapplied.
Dental bonding takes some artistic skill to do its best for your smile. And, as we’ve noted, it’s not for every situation. We’d be happy to talk with you about whether bonding is right for your situation. Why not call us today?
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