If you currently have silver amalgam fillings and want to change the filling, you may wonder what a white composite filling offers. Whether it is because you dislike the metal color of the filling, and like many people prefer the natural color of your tooth, a white composite filling is a good choice as an alternative. They are tooth-colored and can be blended by your dentist to match the look of your tooth. In this article, we’ll look at the different types of fillings available and why you might consider going with a white, or composite filling instead.

What is a composite filling? What is an amalgam?

White fillings, also known as composite fillings, are made of a variety of materials, often either resin, with some being made from a ceramic or glass ionomer material. White composite fillings are becoming more and more popular as having a beautiful smile is the most important thing for many patients. White composites offer a better aesthetic and are less invasive than silver amalgam fillings. A silver amalgam filling is made up of an alloy of the metals mercury, silver, copper, tin and zinc which is used to fill cavities. These are often referred to as simply amalgam fillings. This kind of filling has been used by dentists for more than 100 years to fill and preserve decayed teeth. Silver amalgam fillings are very durable, typically lasting 10 to 15 years and they are strong enough to withstand chewing forces and pressures. They also can be less expensive than some other filling materials, but they do not match the tooth’s natural color, putting them at a substantial disadvantage. Silver amalgam fillings and white composite fillings each have different methods of application. Silver amalgam fillings require the dentist to create a mixture of liquid mercury and various other metals. The mixture is then applied to the tooth, where it quickly sets. White composite fillings are applied differently, in a series of layers alternatively hardened before the next layer is applied. A special high intensity light is used to “cure” or hardens the layer. After the layering process  the dentist will then shape and contour the composite material to the shape of your natural tooth before finally trimming and polishing the final restoration.

What is the process of getting a tooth filled?

A filling always begins with a cavity. A cavity is a hole in the tooth caused by the buildup of plaque on the tooth. After a dentist identifies the decay on the tooth, they will then often have to fill the cavity to prevent further decay, or repair a damaged tooth. To treat a cavity, the dentist will first remove the decayed portion of the tooth and then fill the cavity with a filling material. Doing this  will help to prevent the spread of more decay and restores the teeth so they can be used to do their job of chewing and breaking down edible materials. Fillings can also be used to repair cracked or broken teeth, or teeth that have been worn down through bad tooth habits, like nail biting or tooth grinding. The dentist will first apply a local anesthetic in order to numb the area around the tooth. Next, the dentist will use a tool, such as a drill, or air abrasion instrument, or even a laser, to remove the decayed area. The choice of tool depends on the dentist’s skill and training, as well as the location and extent of the cavity and the availability of the equipment. After the drilling, the dentist will check to see if all the decay was removed by probing the site. Satisfied there is no more remaining decay, the dentist will clean the space of germs and debris and then prepare it for filling. Finally, after the filling the dentist will finish and polish the tooth.

What are the benefits of a composite filling?

White composite fillings offer many advantages, the strongest being able to matching the natural color of your teeth. Most people have spent good money on making sure they have a healthy smile. Why would you ruin it with a silver amalgam filling, when you can preserve your smile with a white composite filling? White composite fillings also bond to your tooth structure, which helps to create a stronger support for the filling. They also are extremely versatile. They are used to repair worn, chipped, or broken teeth in addition to filling a cavity. They also spare healthy tooth structure, as less of the structure will need to be removed in order for the cavity to be drilled and set. While composite fillings may require a slightly longer visit, because of the setting process, they offer huge advantages. Some other white fillings also exist on the market, like the previously mentioned glass ionomer. A glass ionomer filling is made of acrylic and a specific type of glass. The glass ionomer will actually release fluoride, which helps protect the tooth from further decay. However, glass ionomer has a short durability, lasting five or fewer years, but newer methods are being developed to prolong their lifespan

Why should I not get a silver amalgam filling?

Silver amalgam fillings may be available at a low cost, but they come with some pretty hefty disadvantages. First, they are not aesthetically pleasing as many people prefer to have their natural tooth color preserve where possible. They also discolor the surrounding tooth structure, often creating a grayish hue. Silver amalgam fillings will also require more destruction of the tooth by the dentist, as healthy parts of the tooth may have to be removed in order for there to be enough room for the use of the amalgam. Silver amalgam fillings are made with elemental mercury, and therefore it carries with it some risk. The mercury used in the filing can decay and become a vapor, that when inhaled in high amounts, can lead to major damage to the brain and kidneys. However, the FDA has found no link between the silver amalgam fillings and health problems, and considers them safe for adults and children over 6. Additionally, for only a small percentage of people, the elemental mercury used in silver amalgam fillings may cause an allergic reaction. As for infants and fetuses, there simply isn’t enough data available for the FDA to make an accurate evaluation on the effect of silver amalgam fillings on their health. The FDA has recently made a statement saying “Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses” and “Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner.” When considering silver amalgam fillings, talk with your doctor to make sure that  you have considered all your options, and listen to their recommendation. Consider a white composite filling next time your doctor informs you that you need to have a filling to help preserve your wonderful smile.