Which Tooth Filling Is Best? It Depends

Dental Cleanings and Exams 1 in Rochester, MN by Dr. Jim Gores of Lakeside Dentistry

When it comes to fillings at the dentist, you’ve got two options. Some dentists offer only one type of tooth filling. At Lakeside Dentistry, we offer both because every situation is different. Both types of fillings have advantages and disadvantages, which we are happy to discuss with you at our Rochester, MN dentist office.

In the meantime, we’ve highlighted some of the differences in the two types of dental fillings: amalgam (or metal) and composite. We can help you determine which tooth filling is best for you. Call us at 507-316-6444.

What Are Fillings Made Of?

A composite tooth filling is made of composite resin, a mixture of plastic and glass. It is tooth-colored, so will blend in naturally with your smile. In fact, we can use composite to make cosmetic improvements. It can change the color and/or shape of your tooth or cover minor flaws. That process is called tooth bonding.

The composite material is quite soft when a dentist applies it to your tooth; it hardens when exposed to a special blue light. Because the material is so flexible, we can use it for cavities of any size or shape. However, a composite filling will not stand up to wear-and-tear as well as a metal filling.

In addition, we must keep your tooth dry when we place a composite filling. Any moisture will affect the seal – and possibly the life of the filling. In areas where that’s hard to do, amalgam may be a better choice.

An amalgam filling is made of a mixture of silver, copper, tin, and mercury. It is silver-colored and tends to darken over time. Because metal is more durable than composite, it is often a better choice for teeth that take a lot of chewing force. Their durability also makes them these fillings a better choice for people who grind or clench their teeth.

Cost of Tooth Fillings

Composite fillings cost more than amalgam ones. They can cost up to two times more, depending on the size needed and other factors. Dental insurance typically covers the cost of a metal filling, with the patient expected to make up the difference. All insurance plans are different, of course. We’re happy to review your benefits with you.

Because of the difference in cost, some patients choose a composite filling for areas of their mouth that are easily seen when they smile but opt for metal in places that less visible.

How a Filling Affects Your Tooth

Our dentists apply composite in layers, then bond it to your tooth. In contrast, a metal filling sits inside a cavity. More modification of your tooth is required to make room for the filling. In addition, metal fillings can weaken your tooth structure. Metal expands and contracts when exposed to heat and cold extremes; over time this can cause small fractures or other damage.  

Metal will tarnish, eventually giving your amalgam fillings a “black” look. Composite resists staining fairly well, although smoking or consuming lots of staining liquids like coffee will cause it to darken over time. Our dentists and hygienists will remove surface stains when they polish your teeth during your dental cleanings. Teeth whitening products will not work on composite fillings.

Mercury and Health Concerns

Health concerns have been raised over the use of mercury, which is used to make metal fillings more pliable. Mercury exists naturally in the environment, and we’re all exposed to some levels of it. The degree of danger is closely related to the amount you take in. In recent years, for example, scientists have expressed concern about the growing amounts of mercury found in fish and other seafood.

Studies have shown that vapor containing small amounts of mercury is released over time as fillings wear down. The FDA has concluded this doesn’t present a health risk for adults. However, it recommends avoiding amalgam fillings for pregnant women and children under the age of 6. The neurological systems of fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the effects of mercury, and there haven’t been as many studies in these populations.

Still confused about which tooth filling is best for you? Call Lakeside Dentistry at 507-316-6444.

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