When you're staring a dental drill straight in the face, you probably don't want to be discussing what material will be used in creating your filling. It's best to do that in advance, but how do you know you're making the right choice? Out of the two most common materials, composite and amalgam, which is safer or more durable? Here's the lowdown on your choices.
For most people, their first concern when deciding on dental procedures is safety. Recently, there has been some concern over the safety of amalgam fillings because of their mercury content. Here is a comparison of the safety record of both composite fillings and amalgam.
Composite Fillings: Made from plastic and glass, composite fillings have no toxic ingredients. They have become the favored material for patients who have concerns about the safety of amalgam fillings.
Amalgam Fillings: This material is made from mercury, tin, copper and silver. Because about half of the weight of amalgam fillings is mercury, some people have concerns about the health effects of amalgam. This material has been used for more than a century without any obvious health effects, and the levels of mercury found in the blood of people with amalgam fillings is well below acceptable levels. There appears to be very little health risk to amalgam fillings, but if you are concerned, talk to your dentist about your options.
Something else you should consider when deciding on filling materials is how long those fillings will last. You can expect your composite fillings to last at least 5 years, whereas amalgam can last 15 years or longer. Composite fillings are more fragile than amalgam, and so they are not recommended for chewing surfaces or for very large fillings. Using composite fillings inappropriately can result in drastically lowered durability, and put you back in the dentist's chair sooner.
Amalgam fillings are silver, metallic fillings and cannot match the color or sheen of natural teeth. Many people in years past have foregone having fillings done on visible teeth because of amalgam's unsightly appearance. With recent advances in dental composite fillings, though, front teeth can be filled with material that mimics the natural appearance of teeth. Composite is the overwhelmingly preferred material for fillings done on visible teeth.
Amalgam has been available and widely used for a very long time. Because of that, the fact that they are faster to apply, and are cheaper to manufacture, means that amalgam is definitely the less expensive option. Insurance providers sometimes will not cover composite fillings for anything but front teeth, so be careful when you're deciding on a material to factor in the cost and whether or not your insurance will cover the material you choose.
Future Tooth Considerations
Amalgam dental fillings require that more tooth tissue be removed in order to create the right environment for the amalgam to adhere to the tooth structure. Without this additional preparation, the filling could be improperly sited, and end up coming out much sooner than it should. Composite fillings don't require as much tissue removal, and it actually forms a chemical bond with your tooth, meaning that composite fillings result in cracked teeth and decay behind the filling less often than amalgam.
The material you choose for your filling could be influenced by any one of the above factors. Considering the cost, the future of your teeth, how the filling will look, and the safety of the material will help you make a more informed choice, and increase your satisfaction with your dental work. Talk your concerns over with your dentist, and make sure you're picking the right material for you.