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What are Tooth Fillings Made of?

The most common way a dentist will treat a cavity is to remove the decayed part of the tooth, and then fill it with a special dental filling to help prevent further decay and retain the integrity of the tooth.

These fillings can also be used to repair cracks or breaks in the enamel, which can occur when the tooth is struck by a physical object, or even if grind your teeth extensively, sometimes referred to as bruxism.

What materials are used in dental fillings?

Today, there are a variety of materials used for a tooth filling, and each serve different purposes. Depending on your situation, your dentist may suggest specific types of fillings based on your insurance, your current dental needs, etc.

Mercury-Silver amalgam fillings

At one point, these silver fillings were the most commonly used fillings used for repairing tooth decay. They are inexpensive and can last up to 10 or 15+ years depending on the care. However, these silver fillings can discolor over time, and its silvery look can be aesthetically displeasing.

This material may also expand or contract depending on the temperature and contribute to your teeth cracking or fracturing over time. Since these fillings to not bond or stick to the teeth the dentist will generally have to create a larger space in the tooth to create more room for the filling for retention. Another disadvantage is the presence of mercury in this material. While mercury itself has been shown to be damaging to our health, the amount of mercury in these fillings are below the FDA limit and have shown no signs to be detrimental to our health, according to several studies. However, most people tend to avoid silver amalgam fillings these days.

Gold cast fillings

While gold can cost much more than silver amalgam fillings, they’re more durable and last longer.

Gold cast fillings also don’t tarnish the same way silver fillings do, and some people may find the gold to be more pleasing aesthetically than silver. Some patients may also choose gold over silver if they’re concerned about the nominal amount of mercury in silver fillings, and would want a material that doesn’t require as much maintenance and care.

Tooth-colored composite fillings

For those looking for more aesthetically pleasing fillings, a composite filling may be what you’re looking for. However, while they’re made to closely match the color of your teeth, they can be more expensive than silver fillings, and typically won’t last as long.

These fillings are made of a plastic and fine glass mixture that gives it its tooth-like coloring. The material also bonds better with your teeth, giving it a stronger hold than with the amalgam fillings.

Porcelain fillings

Porcelain fillings are a great choice for patients who want a cleaner look for teeth. These fillings are better at resisting staining and discoloration than composite fillings.

Porcelain fillings are sometimes referred to as porcelain inlays or onlays, and can actually be a little bit more difficult to place because of the material’s durability.

Glass ionomer fillings

If you have a tooth with decay below the gumline, or a child (whose teeth are still changing) who needs a filling, then your dentist may suggest glass ionomer fillings because of its flexibility.

These fillings are weaker than composite fillings and do not last as long, but they contain fluoride, which is slowly released onto your teeth, aiding in the fight against future tooth decay. Applying glass ionomer fillings may also take longer than other fillings, requiring a longer dental office visit.

Which dental filling will I need?

Your dentist will be able to assess your current situation and determine the best course of action for your dental needs, time, and budget. Also your dental insurance may limit what type of material they will pay for which is usually the least costly to them not necessarily the best for you and your tooth. With a variety of different materials to choose from, you’ll be sure to find one that will suit your needs and maintain good oral health.

Let the experienced dental staff and Dr. Stephen Coates help you with your tooth repair needs. If you’re in or around the Long Beach, CA area, we’d love to serve you as part of our dental family.

Schedule your appointment with our online system here, or call us at 562-434-6414.

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