Fillings are used when decay, or a “cavity,” is found in the tooth. The decay is removed and replaced with the filling to protect the integrity of the tooth. Whereas years ago the only option for a filling was silver (amalgam), now there is a more cosmetic option.
What are composite resin fillings and restorations?
Composite resin fillings are the most common alternative to dental amalgam. They are sometimes called “tooth-colored” or “white” fillings because of their color. Composite resin fillings are made of a type of plastic (an acrylic resin) reinforced with powdered glass filler. Composite resin is often placed in layers to build up the final restoration, then cured with an “ultra-violet light”. This light energy speeds up a chemical reaction of the components causing the soft material to harden and bond to the tooth. This material is considered safe. The color (shade) of composite resins can be customized to closely match surrounding teeth. This plastic and glass mixture contains no metal and can be shaped to resemble a real tooth. It is usually hard to tell that a tooth has even been filled!
Composite resin fillings have several advantages. The “white” color is preferred by many patients due to its ability to blend in with surrounding teeth. It is also possible to make more conservative preparations when using composite material, thus enabling the dentist to preserve more natural tooth structure.
The American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs has concluded that both amalgam and composite materials are considered safe and effective for tooth restoration.
Some benefits of composite resin restoration include:
- Natural-looking restorations
- Better for smaller fillings
- Preservation of more tooth structure
The procedure for placing a composite resin dental filling is a bit more complicated than it is for an amalgam filling:
- The dentist isolates the tooth from saliva to keep it dry.
- Any dental decay is removed.
- An etchant and bonding agent are placed, followed by the composite resin.
- A special light is used to harden each layer of composite resin material.
- After the tooth is filled, the composite resin is shaped to resemble a real tooth.
- Finally, the restoration is smoothed and polished to accommodate your occlusion.
Should I have my amalgam fillings removed?
If your fillings are in good condition and there is no decay beneath the filling, the FDA does not recommend that you have your amalgam fillings removed or replaced. Removing sound amalgam fillings results in unnecessary loss of healthy tooth structure, and may expose you to additional mercury vapor released during the removal process.
However, if you believe you have an allergy or sensitivity to mercury or any of the other metals in dental amalgam (such as silver, tin, or copper), you should discuss treatment options with your dentist.