Dental fillings are used to restore teeth that have been damaged by tooth decay. The development of tooth-colored fillings has provided dentist and patients with a safer and more attractive alternative to silver amalgam fillings.
By precisely matching tooth-colored composite fillings with the natural color of your teeth, a skilled cosmetic dentist is able to provide you with white fillings that are virtually invisible. The removal of old amalgam fillings can provide patients with white fillings that provide a more pleasing, silver-free smile.
Types of Dental Fillings
- Dental amalgam: Amalgam, also known as silver fillings, are the least expensive type of filling.
- Tooth-colored composite resin: Composite resin fillings are more pleasing to the eye but are more expensive than dental amalgam fillings.
- Glass ionomers: This type of filling is primarily used in fillings below the gum line and in small children; the cost is comparable to composite resin.
- Gold fillings: These fillings are well tolerated by sensitive patients and are resistant to corrosion, tarnishing, and wear and tear but are among the most expensive filling materials.
- Ceramic or porcelain: Ceramic and porcelain fillings most closely mimic natural tooth color and can be as expensive as gold fillings.
Learn about composite and silver dental fillings, including the benefits and side effects associated with each material, before you decide to have your smile restored with this cosmetic dentistry treatment.
Composite Dental Fillings
Composite fillings, also known as white or tooth-colored fillings, have replaced the need for silver amalgram material when filling in areas of teeth that have been affected by tooth decay and cavities. The majority of Americans are now choosing to have old silver fillings replaced and new cavities filled with composite solutions despite the fact that tooth colored fillings are more expensive than silver fillings.
Composite Fillings Benefits
Composite fillings offer a number of benefits over silver amalgram fillings, which contain mercury and are considered by many to be toxic.
- Composite materials can restore and strengthen the teeth; silver fillings actually weaken the tooth because the metal can expand and contract based on temperature changes, making the tooth more prone to breakage.
- Dentists do not have to remove as much of your natural tooth structure when prepping it for the composite fillings, whereas the hole required for silver fillings is significantly larger.
- White fillings improve the health of teeth without marring their appearance with dark fillings.
- There is less post-treatment pain and sensitivity associated with use of composite materials versus silver fillings.
Composite Fillings Risks and Side Effects
There are no known health risks associated with use of composite fillings. However, some patients do experience mild discomfort in the days following the procedure. Patients can expect to feel some pain and sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks, especially in the first week or two after treatment.
In the past, use of metal fillings to treat cavities was common in the United States. Since composite, or tooth-colored fillings, were developed and made available to consumers in the 1990s, dentists and patients have come to prefer composite filler materials over silver amalgram fillers for a range of reasons. However, some patients find that silver fillings are sufficient and dentists do still use this material to treat teeth damaged by decay.
Metal Fillings Benefits
One of the main reasons patients prefer silver amalgram fillings to composite solutions is because of the cost. Silver fillings generally cost $110 to $200 per filling, while composite fillings generally cost $135 to $240 per filling. The cost varies based on the extent of damage to the tooth. In addition, dental health insurance policies generally cover a significant portion of the cost of these procedures. Other benefits of amalgram fillings include:
- The procedure is shorter than the composite treatment.
- The silver filling treatment requires less skill and technology than the composite technique.
- Silver fillings have been used for decades, and many patients are more comfortable with the materials long-term safety record.
Metal Fillings Risks and Side Effects
Although silver fillings are effective in treating cavities, they are associated with some health risks and side effects.
- Although metal fillings have been shown to be safe in patients, many believe that use of mercury in the amalgram material may lead to future health problems.
- The metal material can expand and contract over time, and could potentially cause damage to the structure of the tooth.
- The dentist must remove more of the tooth structure than is required when composite material is used to fill in the cavity.
- Teeth may be more sensitive to hot and cold foods in the weeks following treatment.
Dental Fillings Candidacy
Good candidates for the dental fillings procedure include patients that have mild to moderate tooth decay. Patients with a seriously infected tooth may need a root canal and dental crown in order to restore the tooth back to health.
Many patients choose to have their old silver fillings replaced with tooth-colored composite fillings to improve the appearance of their smiles.
Diagnosis of Cavities
During your dental appointment, a technician will take X-rays of your mouth; then the dentist will examine your X-rays, as well as your teeth, gums, and surrounding bone to diagnose any problems. If the dentist finds any evidence of tooth decay and cavities, he or she will recommend the proper course of treatment. If the patient only has mild to moderate tooth decay, a dental filling can be used to restore the tooth back to heath.
Prepping the Tooth
After your dentist has determined which tooth is affected by decay, a laser or another dental cleaning device is used to remove infected areas of the tooth. After the tooth has been sufficiently prepared, the dentist can fill in areas of the missing tooth with amalgram or a tooth-colored composite material. If you have old silver fillings that need to be replaced, your dentist will remove the amalgram filling, clean out any underlying debris or damage, and mold the composite material to the tooth.
Filling the Tooth
The majority of U.S. patients opt to have their cavities filled in with a tooth-colored bonding material rather than the silver mercury fillings that were commonly used in the past. With composite fillings, the dentist uses dental devices that isolate the affected tooth so moisture does not prevent the composite material from properly bonding to the tooth. The dentist then applies the composite solution to fill in the missing areas and provide more support to the tooth. A special light is held over the bonding material for a set amount of time until the filling hardens. Finally, the dentist files the bonding material down to perfect the patients bite.
When silver fillings are used to treat cavities, the dentist employs a procedure that is similar to the composite filling procedure; the difference is that the tooth does not need to be isolated and a bonding light does not need to be used when silver amalgram is used to fill in cavities.
Tooth-colored Filling Benefits
When a new cavity needs filling, the vast majority of patients now choose tooth-colored composite fillings. White fillings are made of composite resin and serve to fill cavities just like silver amalgam fillings. However, white fillings are matched to the color of your teeth and are virtually invisible. Tooth-colored fillings have become more popular over the years. As the availability of white fillings has increased and the possible dangers associated with amalgam fillings have been publicized, more and more patients are having their cavities filled with beautifully white, tooth-colored fillings.
Dental Filling Side Effects
The dental fillings procedure is associated with few side effects and risks. Some patients may experience sensitivity to cold and hot foods, and pain when chewing for a few days after treatment.
Silver amalgam fillings contain about 50 percent mercury, a chemical that has been scientifically shown to be more toxic than lead, cadmium, or arsenic. The possibility of mercury leaking from amalgam fillings over time has prompted a movement toward mercury-free dentistry. The mercury in silver amalgam fillings is thought to leave the filling and enter the organs of the body in small amounts throughout life. Some medical practitioners believe this mercury is causing physical and psychological problems in patients. These include neurodegenerative diseases, birth defects, and mental disorders. The debate is ongoing but many patients are opting to remove their amalgam fillings in order to improve their appearance and ease their minds.
Removing and Replacing Old Metal Fillings
Many patients opt for the removal of their amalgam fillings. These patients want to enhance their cosmetic appearance by ridding their mouths of unsightly silver fillings and replacing them with tooth-colored composite fillings. This simple procedure is an easy way to make a big difference in your smile.
Dental Fillings Cost
The cost of dental fillings varies depending on the type of filling that is used and the extent of cleaning that is required. Visit our cost and financing page to learn cost estimates for fillings. In most cases, dental insurance will cover the cost of dental fillings. If a silver filling is chipped or cracked, dental insurance may pay for part of the cost of replacement.
Contact a Cosmetic Dentist
DocShop.com is a valuable resource for anyone requiring the services of an experienced medical or dental professional. If you need dental fillings and are seeking a dentist in whom you can have complete confidence, use DocShop today to locate a trusted dentist in your area.
Want More Information?
Contact a Doctor Near You.