Dental fillings are very common in dentistry, with many patients receiving at least one filling at some point in time. However, the materials used for fillings have changed over the years. Nonetheless, there are still a variety of materials a dentist may use.
The fillings of old
Fillings are nothing new. In fact, researchers have discovered ancient fillings made from beeswax dated at 6,500 years old! While beeswax certainly is not used today, modern dentists routinely see patients with outdated fillings.
Amalgam, which is a blend of metals including mercury, first appeared a little over 100 years ago. Over time, the amount of mercury used has decreased as health concerns arose over its toxicity. However, there is still concern among some dentists and patients about the amount of mercury in some amalgam fillings.
Today, fillings use a variety of materials. Silver amalgams remain popular, along with porcelain and composite resin fillings. Amalgams still contain a small amount of mercury, which is a point of contention among some dentists. These dentists, referred to as mercury-free dentists, refuse to use any fillings containing mercury.
In practice, it is not necessary to have an amalgam filling. In fact, with the advent of dental implants, fillings are often skipped entirely in favor of this more durable option. However, because many patients require a more affordable option, and because fillings are acceptable when addressing a single tooth, they are still very commonly used.
Advantages of each material
Each material has its own individual pros and cons. The choice of material is generally made by the dentist with input and consent from the patient.
Silver amalgam fillings
Silver amalgam fillings are a blend of silver, zinc, tin, mercury and copper. It is strong, affordable and durable. Silver amalgam fillings can easily last for 15 years or longer. However, many patients do not find the appearance attractive. Additionally, the amalgam may contract or expand and cause cracks in the host tooth, requiring routine examination to prevent this from occurring. Of course, some are also concerned about the presence of mercury.
Made of resin and plastic, composite fillings match the color of existing teeth. However, they are typically more expensive, and don’t last as long. Some patients need composite fillings replaced as often as every five years.
Both attractive and durable, ceramic fillings are a popular choice, but they are also more expensive. Ceramics are composed of porcelain and can be matched to the color of natural teeth easily. They also retain their color with excellent resistance to abrasion and stains. However, in addition to the price, ceramics also are more brittle, which requires the filling to be larger.
Glass ionomer fillings
A unique type of filling, glass ionomers last for under five years on average. They do release fluoride, but do not match natural teeth particularly well. These properties work well for children’s teeth.
Lastly, gold fillings are exceptionally rare due to their price. While sturdy and resistant to corrosion, the expense keeps most dentists from even offering them as an option.
There are many materials used in fillings, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Patients and dentists will need to consider appearance, durability and budget when making a decision.
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