Tooth-colored fillings are generally the preferred method for dealing with cavities, especially if they will be visible when the patient smiles. The question has to be asked, though: if they look so much better than the old amalgam fillings (and they do), why would anyone still use metal? Are there any benefits to going with silvery fillings instead of the more aesthetically sound choice?
A Little about Amalgam
Amalgam fillings are made of a few different metals – more specifically: silver, tin copper, zinc, and mercury. Of course, having a spot of mercury in your mouth can be unsettling to a lot of people, but the World Health Organization, the American Dental Association, and other scientific organizations have confirmed the safety of it as a dental material.
So it’s safe, but it still doesn’t look too good. That’s why it’s usually only used in the back teeth, so it won’t be that obvious. Still, it does offer some benefits:
- It lasts a long time. At least seven years, but usually longer.
- It is a comparatively cost-effective material.
- The procedure can be completed in a single visit.
- The results are very strong and can easily handle normal chewing activities.
So amalgam is still a viable alternative in many cases, but there are some drawbacks. The most obvious is that it just doesn’t look all that nice, and, over the years, it can corrode or tarnish. Also, depending on the situation, we may have to remove more than just the cavity in the tooth in order to make a space large enough to hold the amalgam.
More than Just Appearances
The most obvious benefit of tooth-colored fillings is the way they match the color of the rest of your teeth. These fillings are usually either resin (a composite of plastic and fine glass particles) or porcelain.
Tooth-colored fillings are the normal choice for cavities in the front teeth or any place where they’ll be immediately visible when you laugh or speak. Any direct fillings with these materials can usually be completed within a single visit, but if you need an indirect filling, you may require a couple of visits (because a laboratory will actually make the filling based on an impression taken during the first visit, which will then be sealed into place later).
The bonding process for these materials is also more effective than amalgam, so less of the healthy tooth has to be taken. And when it’s all said and done, the results are usually just as strong as the metal fillings.
However, in large cavities, the resin material might not last as long as amalgam fillings, and they might not be quite as strong as amalgam in the face of the pressures caused by chewing. And, depending on the material, it could take a much longer time to fill the tooth, since it has to be done in careful layers.
In general, though, since the tooth-colored fillings can be used without taking as much of the healthy tooth, they do offer more benefits than just appearance. We always want to hang on to as much of your natural teeth as possible.