The traditional silver amalgam fillings are not the only option available to treat dental cavities and restore tooth structure. Composite fillings are made from a mixture of plastic and fine glass particles, with the most widely used compound being resin-based. Although first introduced in the 1960s, these ‘white’ or ‘tooth-cultured’ fillings have been gaining popularity in recent years for a variety of different reasons, from the cosmetic to the practical.
With society’s emphasis on physical appearance seemingly increasing every year, many people want their fillings to look as natural as possible. The traditional material used for fillings, amalgam, is noticeable due to the silver color. Composite resin is formulated to mimic the appearance of natural teeth, resulting in a filling that is very difficult to spot. Dentists are able to blend shades to create the closest match to an individual’s teeth as possible. The ‘look’ of composite fillings is far superior to any other type currently available.
- Bonding properties
Unlike the amalgam mixture used in traditional fillings, the composite resin actually bonds directly to teeth, strengthening and supporting the tooth structure. This support helps to insulate the tooth from excessive temperature changes as well as breakage. Technology has improved and perfected the composite mixture to make it exceptionally strong when bonded to teeth, and therefore able to withstand pressure from chewing well. Once the procedure has been completed, the tooth is ready to use – this is not the case with amalgam fillings.
The bonding nature of composite fillings also offers potential for easy repair. If the original filling is damaged, it is may be possible for a dentist to repair it rather than completely replace it, as is necessary with amalgam fillings. The newly added composite will create a bond between existing composite filling and the tooth. The composite resin can also be used for more than just standard fillings. Chipped, broken or worn teeth can be repaired using the composite filling material.
- Less drilling
Composite fillings reduce loss to healthy tooth structure and usually require less drilling compared to other solutions. The shape of the hole for traditional amalgam fillings must be a certain kind of shape and size to retain the mixture. Grooves and slots in the surrounding tooth structure may be created for the success of the filling. This is less important for composite fillings, as the resin bonds to the tooth. This allows for a less invasive procedure and a smaller size of filling overall.
For a long time, amalgam (silver) dental fillings were the only option to restore decayed teeth. Approximately 50% of the amalgam material is mercury, a necessary ingredient to bind together the remaining mixture of silver, tin and copper. Some people prefer to avoid the amalgam compound due to allergies or concerns about side effects of mercury. Amalgam fillings have been used for over 150 years without incident and are considered safe by health organizations around the world.
While the composite mixture has many benefits over the traditional amalgam, there are however some disadvantages. White fillings usually need to be replaced more often than those of the silver variety, and also tend to cost more. The initial placement is likely to take longer than that of an amalgam filling, as the composite is added in layers. Technology has enhanced the resistance of the composite mixture over the years, but frequent exposure to dark liquids such as coffee and red wine may still stain the filling’s light color. While composite fillings have many clear advantages, the best way to decide which type of filling is right for you is to discuss the options with your dentist.