Diligent oral care at least twice a day every day is a critical part of our overall health from our youngest years to the oldest. Nevertheless, most people at one time or another develop cavities which then must be repaired and filled. In “the old days,” dental patients had but one option for fillings: silver amalgam. These fillings were never the most attractive, and while they are still available and widely used, you have another option today if you are heading in for dental work.
Tooth-colored fillings are a composite resin used to fill cavities. The material is soft when a dentist places it in your mouth, and fills in the space previously occupied by decay. The resin quickly hardens with the help of a curing light. As this special resin is made of plastic and powdered glass, it is incredibly strong and durable. It is also tinted to perfectly match existing teeth shades so the “new” tooth blends in seamlessly with the rest. That means you get a beaming white smile with no evidence of a cavity.
Let’s look closer at the amalgam/resin dental decision:
Amalgam fillings defined
Amalgam tooth fillings, commonly known as silver fillings, have been used since about 1895. They are made of a mixture of metals including mercury, silver, tin, and copper. Mercury makes up roughly 50 percent of a silver filling’s compound and binds the metals together to form a strong, lasting filling. However, mercury is a heavy metal and some patients are sensitive or allergic to it. Appearance can also be a concern, as silver fillings are noticeable when smiling and over time they sometimes darken the appearance of the entire tooth, giving it a dull gray look.
Benefits of tooth-colored fillings
The biggest draw of tooth-colored fillings is their ability to blend in with your existing teeth and maintain an attractive smile. Several other benefits come with resin fillings as well:
The procedure for tooth-colored fillings is quick and painless, taking less than an hour to treat up to two cavities. Similar to the silver filling procedure, your dentist will numb the treatment area’s gums and teeth with local anesthesia. Once numbing takes effect, infected tooth material is removed and the tooth thoroughly cleaned. The resin (tinted to match the natural color of your other teeth) is then applied to the cavity. The malleable properties of the resin allow the dentist to shape it to maintain your natural bite, and the process is finished by hardening the resin with a curing light. All told, the entire process of placing, curing, and polishing your filling can be completed in about 15 minutes.
Good-looking end product
Silver amalgam fillings, regardless of how polished and expertly applied, simply don’t exude an attractive look. Tooth-colored fillings, however, stay true to their name and blend in with your surrounding teeth so well that no one will notice you ever had a cavity and you can smile and laugh with confidence.
Composite helps maintain structural integrity
The composite resin used in tooth-colored fillings is an excellent bonding agent, which means that far less natural tooth structure must be removed compared to silver or gold fillings. This is good news for you, as your tooth retains more of its original composition.
Is there a downside to resin fillings?
While composite fillings bring many advantages, you should weigh the cons as well, the most apparent being cost and longevity. Composite fillings are relatively new to the dental field and are generally more expensive than amalgam options. Composite also requires a somewhat longer treatment period.
The importance of fillings
Whether you choose tooth-colored or amalgam fillings, the ultimate goal is your health. Dental fillings are specifically designed to replay decay in a tooth’s enamel and reintroduce strength, structure, and a pleasing appearance.
Dental enamel is the strongest tissue in our bodies but is susceptible to bacteria caused by plaque, which is a persistent blend of minerals and bacteria that forms on teeth. This bacteria gobbles up starches and sugars to create an acid. As plaque builds up, bacteria accumulate as well and the acid eats away at tooth enamel and eventually creates a cavity. Let unchecked, decay can work into the tooth canal and cause all sorts of pain and the likely need for a root canal or complete removal of the tooth.