The one thing that most people dread during a dental check-up is being told that they need a tooth filling – and indeed for some patients, it’s their first experience of dental treatment. The good news is that as modern dentistry has progressed to include more sophisticated diagnostic and treatment methods, so too have your dental filling material options. Depending on the teeth and their patient’s needs, dentists today offer a variety of restorative dental filling materials.
So without further ado, let’s dive in and take a closer look at the various types of dental filling materials and their uses, starting with amalgam.
What are amalgam fillings?
Amalgam – or silver fillings as they’re often referred to – are made up of 50% mercury, 35% silver, 9% tin, and 6% copper along with small traces of zinc. This type of dental filling material was introduced some 150 years ago and proved popular because
- it was economical to use, and
- patients could expect their fillings to last between 15 and 20 years.
Tooth coloured filling materials can now be used to restore teeth, which means that amalgam is not used as often as it was in the past. However, the latest types of dental filling materials can’t be used for all situations.
Amalgam costs less than other materials and over a long period of time holds up better, especially when teeth are subjected to pressure and wear, such as the molars or back teeth which we use for chewing.
How safe is amalgam?
There has been a lot of controversy relating to dental amalgam in recent years. Dental amalgam releases very low levels of mercury in the form of vapour which may be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. However, the FDA has reviewed all of the best scientific evidence and come to the conclusion that amalgam tooth fillings are safe for adults and children over the age of 6. You can find out more about dental amalgam fillings in this FDA US Food and Drug report.
Filling Material – Composite
Composite fillings are made from resin to which powdered glass, silica, quartz or other ceramic particles have been added. They’re a popular choice with patients because they can be colour matched to the surrounding teeth, meaning they are more aesthetically suitable for front teeth and other areas in the smile line.
When can they be used?
Tooth coloured fillings are suitable for front or back teeth and can be used for:
- Cracked or broken teeth
- Worn teeth
- Closing a space between 2 teeth
- Chipped teeth
- Decayed teeth
They provide ample resistance to fracture in small to medium fillings which need to withstand pressure from stress such as chewing. One of the main benefits of composite fillings is that they are bonded to the tooth structure. This gives additional support while at the same time decreasing any marginal gap that can trap bacteria and increase the risk of secondary tooth decay. While they’re not permanent, they are very durable and will give you a long-lasting beautiful smile for many years.
Composite fillings can usually be placed in one appointment. First, you will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area around the tooth enabling the dentist to remove the decayed area.
The cavity will then be cleaned and prepared before the dental filling material is placed. It’s vital at this stage that the area is kept dry. The composite filling is shaped and put in place after which a light is shone onto it to ‘cure’ or set it. All that’s left to do is a quick polish and hey presto, your tooth has been restored to its original shape and function.
Don’t be alarmed if you feel sensitivity to hot and cold following the placement of your composite filling. This is totally natural and should soon subside once your tooth becomes acclimatised to a new filling.
Glass Ionomer Fillings
Dental filling materials such as glass ionomer are more advantageous than composite fillings in certain situations, such as where there is decay beneath the gum or on the tooth roots.
Typically, composite resins need the presence of tooth enamel in order to form a strong bond. Resins bond weakly to root surfaces and can quickly fail. Glass ionomer, on the other hand, has a chemical bond and doesn’t rely on the same bonding principles that resin fillings do. Furthermore, glass ionomers release fluoride which helps the root to stay healthy without the decay recurring.
Glass ionomer can also be placed beneath restorations which are particularly deep and close to the pulp or nerve system. It acts as a barrier between the composite restoration and the pulp while releasing fluoride.
Gold Inlays and Onlays
These are the most expensive of all dental filling materials but have the benefit of being the longest lasting and hardest wearing material which will last for years. In addition, it won’t stain or tarnish and is extremely strong.
We’re pleased to offer porcelain inlays to patients at several of our dental clinics. We use CEREC CAD/CAM digital technology to design and prepare inlays which fit perfectly and look incredibly natural. Even better, our on-site laboratories mean that patients can benefit from inlays and onlays in just one visit. Porcelain is hard wearing and long lasting and can also be colour matched to your teeth. It is, however, usually more expensive than other forms of dental filling material.
What is the safest filling material?
Based on current scientific evidence, neither amalgam nor other dental filling material alternatives are harmful for the general population. Patients should be informed of all their dental options and decide – along with the help of their dentist – the best solution for their needs.
This will be based on characteristics such as primary or permanent teeth and allergies to mercury or other components of restorative materials. Care also needs to be exercised where pregnancy is concerned.
Ultimately, the best type of dental filling is no dental filling at all!
You can lower the risk of dental cavities by;
- Brushing your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
- Flossing once a day
- Eating a balanced diet
- Visiting your dentist regularly
If you’re overdue a dental check-up or you feel you may need a dental filling, then why not book an appointment with the No Gaps Dental. You can call us direct on (02) 8007 6727 or book online at one of our 15 clinics.