Dental Care

Composite Dental Fillings

What are composite dental fillings? We're all familiar with dental amalgam fillings, although we might call them "silver fillings" instead. 

Dental amalgam is the substance that is most frequently used for filling cavities in our teeth.  It is a silvery, metallic material consisting of mercury and an alloy of silver, tin and copper. Although amalgam fillings have been used for well over a century and have filled hundreds of millions of cavities, another kind of dental filling is starting to become popular. 

Known as dental composite fillings, their purpose is the same as that of amalgam fillings, but they are made of an entirely different material and are tooth-colored (white), not silver.  In fact, they are often called "white fillings." 

This difference in color is one of the most obvious advantages of composite fillings.  A white filling blends in far better with the teeth and is much more cosmetically appealing than a silvery piece of metal which is obvious in the mouth.

Advantages of Composite Dental Fillings

Their more natural color isn't the only advantage composite dental fillings have over amalgam. 

In many cases a composite filling will be smaller in size than a comparable dental amalgam filling would be if used in the same cavity.  In other words, the shape a dental composite filling will need to take in order to fill a cavity will usually be smaller than the shape a dental amalgam filling will need to take in order to fill the same cavity. 

Moreover, in most cases, using a composite dental filling permits the drilling of a smaller hole in the tooth in order to accommodate it.  A smaller hole often equates to a structurally stronger tooth.

Hot and Cold

The composite type of fillings also have the edge over amalgam fillings in their comparative potential for causing thermal sensitivity. 

As mentioned above, dental amalgam is a metallic substance.  It is, therefore, an efficient conductor of hot and cold.  Many people with amalgam fillings experience a brief period of discomfort or pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods and beverages. 

In contrast, composite fillings are made of a synthetic resin material and are not metallic.  They are relatively poor conductors of hot and cold, so people with composite fillings are much less likely to experience this type of thermal sensitivity.

Instant Curing and Strength

A composite dental filling cures (hardens) and bonds to the tooth immediately after being installed.  A patient who just had one of these fillings put into place could conceivably eat right after leaving the dentist's office.  Amalgam fillings, on the other hand, do not attain their full strength until several hours have passed after being put into place.  Chalk up another advantage on the side of dental composite fillings.

The way a composite filling bonds to the tooth allows it to restore most of the tooth's original strength, and this ability is another important advantage of dental composite fillings.  Amalgam fillings actually weaken the structure of the teeth, making them more fragile and likely to chip or break. 

Chipped and broken teeth can be extremely expensive to repair and restore, but the composite type of fillings can help prevent this significant potential expense. 

Although composite fillings are typically more expensive than dental amalgam fillings at the beginning, in the long run they could actually be less costly.

Mercury Free

Finally, composite dental fillings are mercury-free.  An increasing number of people, including some dental practitioners (mainly holistic/biological dentists), are concerned about the presence of mercury in amalgam fillings. 

Mercury is a toxic substance and has been associated with an assortment of health problems. 

Some of the potential health issues that have been linked to mercury are quite serious, including immune system suppression, congestive heart failure, kidney damage, impaired renal function, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. 

Although the causative link between the mercury in amalgam fillings and these and other health conditions has not been established definitively, the evidence is sufficient to cause holistic/biological dentists to refuse to use amalgam fillings. 

The linkage may not have been proven authoritatively, but one thing is certain:  composite dental fillings contain no mercury and therefore do not pose this type of risk, whether it is real or not.


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