There’s more to selecting the right material for fillings than choosing between a shiny silver or natural ivory finish.
When tooth decay strikes, dental fillings are the eponymous hero that saves smiles by filling in cavities. Dental fillings are the most commonly performed restorative dental care, and chances are you’ve probably had one or more done on your own smile.
Due to the prevalence of dental fillings, many patients view getting one as fairly routine and don’t question what materials are being used. However, at Metro East Dental Care, we believe patients should know what their options are and how different materials may affect their smiles over the long haul.
When you need a cavity filled you’ll have two options for the material used: silver amalgam or tooth-colored composite.
The main characteristics of amalgam and composite fillings.
Before we dive into the pros and cons of each type of dental filling, let’s first review some basic information on each material.
Amalgam has been used to treat cavities for about 150 years.
Amalgam,, often just referred to as silver fillings, have been around for a very long time and continue to be used by dentists today. This type is made of a combination of different metals including silver, tin, copper, and mercury.
Key features of amalgam:
- They are often the least expensive material for dental fillings.
- The material itself is very durable and long-lasting.
- They harden quickly, making placement faster.
Composite fillings are newer but have become the go-to material to fill a cavity.
Tooth-colored composite is newer compared to amalgam and have been used since the ‘60s. Over the last few decades, they’ve become more popular than amalgam fillings, with some dental offices only offering composite fillings now.
Key features of composite:
- They blend in seamlessly with any color smile due to custom colorizing.
- The composite resin material can last for five to seven years on average.
- They can be used to fix minor cosmetic flaws.
Comparing the advantages and disadvantages of amalgam and composite fillings.
You may be able to guess a few of the positives and negatives of amalgam and composite based on their features, but let’s go a little more in depth.
Advantages of Amalgam
- They are very durable and capable of lasting for over a decade or more with proper care.
- Due to their strength, they can fill fairly large cavities within the teeth.
- The lower expense of amalgam fillings can be a relief to patients on a budget.
- Their fast hardening capability can make treatment less stressful for kids or special needs patients.
Disadvantages of Amalgam
- Mercury levels in amalgam are deemed safe by the ADA but require more of the tooth structure to be removed.
- Though rare, patients with metal allergies may have a bad reaction to amalgam.
- They are very noticeable, even on the back teeth, if your mouth is open wide.
- Amalgam fillings may expand and contract with temperature exposure, resulting in fractures.
- Some dentists no longer perform amalgam fillings in their office.
Advantages of Composite
- They look practically invisible since they are color-matched to blend in with your natural teeth.
- They can be used to fill small to moderate cavities in the front or back teeth.
- The resin compound bonds very well to tooth enamel, making fillings less likely to pop loose.
- They are versatile enough to also be used to fix superficial flaws, like a small chip in a tooth.
- The material isn’t affected by temperature or prone to expanding or contracting.
Disadvantages of Composite
- Their lifespan is five to seven years on average, about half of an amalgam filling.
- They often cost more than amalgam fillings.
- Placement takes longer, which could be an issue for patients with dental anxiety, special needs, or kids.
Making your choice between amalgam and composite fillings.
Composite is the best choice if you want the most natural finish possible and for your fillings to be unnoticeable. They may not last quite as long as amalgam fillings, but the compromise is their beauty and the elimination of mercury-related health concerns.
Amalgam fillings are the best choice if you’re not concerned about appearance and are most interested in longevity. These fillings may also be easier to place for kids or adults with special needs due to their quick hardening. Amalgam fillings will save you money and last longer, but the compromise is the potential concern of mercury and their very obvious appearance.
The only way to truly understand which type of filling is the right one for you or your child is to book a visit with Dr. May. You can schedule your appointment now by calling our office or filling out this online booking form.