If at your most recent visit to the dentist, he or she gave you crummy news – another cavity – you have plenty to keep you motivated: The number of cavities and the need for fillings has decreased as people have become better able to care for their teeth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). But they still happen. Fortunately, there are more types of fillings for teeth today than ever before.
Fillings vary in complexity and material. Some are direct fillings, placed "directly" in a cavity, although others are indirect, wherein an impression of the tooth is taken and a custom filling is created to fit around it. If your dentist suggests a tooth restoration, knowing what's available can help you make the best choice for your mouth.
You might think of amalgam fillings for teeth as a classic option. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), dentists have been using this type of filling for more than 150 years. As the name suggests, amalgam fillings are made up of a mixture of metals. They typically contain about 50 percent mercury, along with tin, copper, silver or zinc. Compared to other types, amalgam fillings have a few things going for them: They are the least pricey option, and they're also very strong and long-lasting.
Amalgam fillings aren't without drawbacks, though. They're silver in color to start and tend to become darker with time, meaning they are a fairly conspicuous item when you open your mouth. And although the FDA has determined that the level of mercury in the filling is safe for people over the age of six, you might prefer not to have a filling made from this material.
A composite tooth filling, typically made of powdered glass and acrylic resin, offers a few advantages over an amalgam filling. For one, the filling can be shaded to match the color of a person's existing teeth, making it much less visible. As more people want natural-looking smiles, composite fillings have become increasingly popular.
Nonetheless, this type of filling isn't always the right pick. The material it's made from is less durable than a mix of metals, such as in amalgam, according to Thomas P. Connelly, DDS. Therefore, the useful life of a composite filing isn't always as long as other options. It's perfect as a small filling, and best suited for teeth that experience a moderate amount of pressure when chewing, compared to teeth that handle the bulk of your chewing action.
When it comes to dental fillings, you can do much worse than gold. It's one of the most durable and long-lasting options, with the ADA noting that it can remain effective for more than two decades. Of course, that durability comes at a price, as gold fillings are among the most expensive. They're usually indirect fillings, as well, so you'll need to spend more time in a dentist's chair to receive one.
Porcelain fillings are similar to gold. They are a form of indirect filling, usually require more than one visit to the dentist and tend to be pricey. However, they're also different from gold fillings in a few important way: On the one hand, they are much more fragile. On the other, they look like actual teeth and can help you maintain a natural appearance.
Resin or Glass Ionomer
Kids get cavities, too, and need to have those cavities filled just like their parents – even if they're on the baby teeth. Resin or glass ionomer fillings are often used on the primary teeth or to fill in small areas of decay, as they tend to be very delicate and take considerable wear and tear. When used on a permanent tooth, this type of filling is usually placed in a spot that isn't subject to extreme pressure or chewing action.
Although you have multiple options when arranging a filling, no filling is objectively better than another. Maintain a good personal routine by brushing with Colgate® Cavity Protection toothpaste at least twice a day, flossing daily and seeing your dentist twice a year.