Dentists have been repairing decayed teeth with silver-colored (amalgam) fillings for generations. Even though the American Dental Association (ADA) says these fillings are safe and affordable, more people are now opting for white fillings (composite resins) to improve their smile. Before deciding if a composite resin is a good choice for you, here's what you need to know about the other options out there.
Cast Gold Fillings
Gold has been used to repair teeth for over 1,000 years, according to the ADA. Because it's durable and doesn't corrode, gold mixed with other metals is sometimes used to make fillings called inlays and onlays. And although these fillings can last 15 years or more, they require a two-appointment process. Your dentist will first remove the decay, prepare the tooth and take impressions, then loop in a dental laboratory to cast the filling. During the second appointment, the gold filling is permanently cemented onto your tooth. Keep in mind using gold to repair teeth is the most expensive choice due to the current value of gold, plus the amount of work involved in shaping it for dental use.
Amalgam is a mix of metals, including silver, tin, mercury, copper and zinc. The ADA estimates over 100 million Americans have amalgam fillings in their mouths – not surprising, as they're hard-wearing and less costly than its alternatives. Nevertheless, they require the removal of more tooth structure and can corrode over time, discoloring the enamel of the tooth that remains. The biggest disadvantage is their silver color, which keeps most practices from applying amalgam fillings to the front teeth.
These composite resins – which the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) explains as a blend of plastics and small glass particles – aren't just good for repairing cavities; they can also be used to change the color or shape of a tooth. The procedure is simple and consists of just one appointment. Your dentist will first choose the shade of composite that best matches your tooth color. After removing the decay, he or she will use a special curing light to harden each layer of filling material. The filling will be shaped to fit your tooth and polished so that it remains smooth and resistant to staining.
Why People Like White Fillings
One of the leading advantages of composites is that, with a good color match, it's almost impossible to see that the tooth had to be restored. And because these fillings bond directly to the enamel, they're strong and resist wear, usually lasting more than five years. With current advances in composite materials, many are holding up even longer. Although they cost less than gold fillings, composites are more expensive than amalgams. Most insurance companies cover these fillings when done on your front teeth, but some carriers will only pay the allowance for an amalgam if the composite is used for a posterior tooth.
Keeping Your White Fillings Healthy
To keep your composite fillings looking their best, and to prevent the need for any more repairs, you'll want to stay on top of even the most basic oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and soft-bristled toothbrush, and make a habit of flossing once a day. Limit sugary snacks and sodas, and see your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings. For extra protection against decay-causing bacteria, try an antibacterial mouthwash like Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ mouthwash. Composites need to be equally protected from changes in color, so make a point to avoid smoking, coffee, teas and other foods that can stain – such as blueberries and red wine.
Every filling material has its pros and cons. White fillings are unsurpassed for a resilient smile, whereas amalgam fillings are just as strong, long-lasting and less expensive than composites or gold. Your preference notwithstanding, it's always wise to consult your dentist about which type of filling will function best in you.