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!
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