Most Americans understand the importance of proper oral care. They may brush, floss, and take their family to the dentist for regular checkups. However, even the best dental care may not be enough.
Even if you do all you can to prevent cavities, you’re not entirely immune to them. Tooth decay can enter into even a small chip or crack in your enamel. And-as we mentioned earlier in this blog-cavities don’t hurt unless the decay reaches your tooth pulp.
However, once you get a cavity, you’re left with one option: getting a filling.
The question is, what type of filling is best for you? Your dentist can choose between silver fillings (amalgams) and resin-based fillings (composite). But you might want to know a bit more about these materials before your next dental visit.
White fillings Facts
White fillings, or dental composite, refers to tooth-colored resins your dentist can use to fill tooth cavities. This composite resin uses a blend of plastics and fillers such as silica and dimethylglyoxime to quite literally ‘bond’ with the tooth’s surface.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Dentists and patients alike prefer tooth colored fillings for cavities on front teeth, largely because of the material’s ability to match natural tooth color. White fillings also works well on the sides of teeth.
If properly applied, white fillings adhere well to teeth. Your dentist can also save more of your natural tooth’s material instead of removing it during drilling. Another reason patients appreciate white fillings is because of its relatively low cost. The cost difference is especially dramatic when compared to porcelain crowns.
Unlike silver fillings discussed later, white fillings attach directly to the tooth. Patients with a broken tooth can receive a white filling to restore the tooth’s shape. The same option may not work with silver fillings.
White filling’s resin composition won’t corrode with age. However, some bonded materials can chip away in time, particularly if patients have bruxism. For this reason, some dentists advise against using white fillings on biting surfaces, particularly on rear molars.
As for other potential disadvantages, composites can shrink during the curing process. Dentists follow strict procedures to avoid this problem, which may allow bacteria to invade unprotected areas.
White fillings also take longer than silver fillings, only because dentists have to keep teeth completely dry for the filling to adhere. In some cases, a longer procedure equals a higher cost. Check your insurance plan to see what coverage you have for white filling procedures.
Silver Filling Facts
Today, many people wonder about the safety of silver fillings. Over the past century, dentists have used silver fillings (which is really a blend of metals besides silver) for dental restorations.
Essentially, silver fillings are a mercury alloy that provides a strong, durable filling for tooth restoration.
Although some patients distrust the mercury element of silver fillings, the World Health Association considers silver fillings safe for dental patients. Mercury is essential for silver fillings’ strength and adhesion. Additionally, mercury occurs naturally in the environment, which makes it likely that people already carry low levels of mercury in their blood-even if they don’t have silver fillings.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The FDA recommends amalgams for any dental patient, age 6 and older, especially if the tooth decay is deep and/or in rear teeth. Silver fillings are less prone to wear than white fillings, which is one reason many dentists choose silver fillings for rear teeth that are more active in chewing.
The main advantages to silver fillings are their strength and durability, as mentioned above. Patients don’t have to worry about biting hard foods (although any filling can fail with enough repeated stress). Also, because silver fillings are so strong, they tend to last for many years with proper care.
Silver fillings also are the least-expensive option, partly because of their availability and partly because of their easy application. You’ll spend less overall time in the chair during a silver filling restorative procedure.
Of course-unlike white fillings-silver fillings do not match natural tooth color. Your dentist has to remove extra tooth material (even healthy areas) to make an adequate space for the silver fillings. Over time, some silver fillings discolor surrounding enamel, making teeth look slightly gray. And if patients drink excessively cold or hot drinks, the silver filling can expand or contract. When this happens, teeth may crack.
Finally, although the risk is small, about one percent of patients develop a mercury allergy. These patients may choose white fillings as an alternate treatment.
Your dentist stays up-to-date on dental fillings, whether they be composite white fillings or silver fillings. Take advantage of your dentist’s experience-simply ask if you have a question or concern about either filling option.
In some cases, especially if your natural tooth is weak or vulnerable to fracture, your dentist may recommend a ceramic or porcelain crown. Remember, your tooth’s integrity and strength are more important than any material you may prefer for your restoration. Always listen to your dentist’s advice and rely on his or her experience.
The next time your dentist finds a cavity, don’t be afraid to ask about your options. The more informed you are, the better your result.