Most people are familiar with dental fillings. Usually the term “filling” brings to mind cavities. Fillings are usually necessary to repair cavities. Fillings treat many other problems like chipped teeth, cracks and damage from teeth grinding.
Not all fillings are alike, though. When it comes to fillings, you do have a choice. We think the best choice is composite fillings. This blog will explain why.
What is a Filling?
A filling is another name for a restoration of a tooth. A tooth has damage from decay, trauma or long-term grinding, and a filling “restores” that damage. It builds the tooth back to its functional shape and size.
When a cavity is present in a tooth, the dentist removes the decayed tooth structure so that only healthy, hard tooth structure remains. This removal leaves a hole, which must be filled in, and this is where the term filling came from.
What Types of Fillings are Available?
In general, there are three types of fillings that can be placed directly in the tooth.
- Amalgam Fillings– Amalgam is an older restorative material, and it is a mixture of several different kinds of metals. There is a controversy around amalgam use because it contains mercury. Exposure to mercury is controversial because some research links it to health problems. Dentists all over the world still use amalgam in many facilities, and many of these fillings last for decades. These fillings are silver in color, so dentists usually only use them in back teeth. They are the least cosmetic in appearance.
- Composite (tooth-colored) Fillings – Composite restorative material is the most commonly used filling in private dental practices in the USA. It is a tooth colored resin that creates an adhesive bond with hard tooth structures.
- Glass Ionomer – Glass ionomer is a restorative material that is less commonly used. It has the benefit of being tooth-colored, and it releases fluoride over time. This means it can help prevent future cavities. Glass ionomer are a good option for patients with a very high risk for cavities. Not many dentists use GI for fillings on a regular basis, so sometimes it is difficult to find. The disadvantages of glass ionomer are that is is less cosmetic than composite fillings and slightly more difficult for the dentist to shape and polish.
Other indirect options (meaning the material is not placed directly in the tooth, but instead made outside of the mouth and then cemented in place) include porcelain and gold inlays, which also fill in holes left by decay or trauma.
What are the Advantages of Composite Fillings?
This is the reason most patients want composite filling materials.
Composite filling material is available in every possible tooth color under the sun. This means your dentist can perfectly match your filling to your natural tooth. Composite fillings blend in to the remaining healthy tooth structure and are usually invisible to anyone who is not a dentist.
Composite filling material is so cosmetic that dentists often use it to cover the entire visible surface of a tooth in a veneer. When a patient chips a front tooth, we can repair it using a perfectly matching composite material, and no one can see where the tooth ends and the filling begins.
This is the reason most dentists love composite fillings. Composite material can fill in a hole of any size. We can use it for a tiny cavity, and the filling stays tiny. This is in contrast to traditional amalgam fillings, which require a minimum depth, width and height, no matter how small the decay is.
Composite fillings allow us to remove only the decay and leave as much healthy tooth structure as possible.
Now, we know “polishable” is not a term most non-dentists use. There are two reasons polishability matters to you as a patient.
- Being polishable means we can make the composite filling material smooth and glossy, just like enamel. Enamel is like glass; it reflects light. By polishing cosmetic composite fillings, we recreate that enamel-like light reflection.
- A highly polished surface resists plaque buildup. The opposite is also true: a rough textured surface will attract plaque buildup. In order to prevent cavities, it is important to prevent plaque buildup at the edge of fillings. When a filling is smooth and glossy, less plaque will accumulate, leading to a lower cavity risk.
There are countless different types of tooth-colored filling material available. This allows dentists to use composite for lots of different types of dental work. There are composite filling materials with higher strength and bulk for fillings in back teeth to withstand chewing forces. Then, there are composites that are lighter, shinier, and translucent to create the most beautiful front teeth restorations.
Composite is versatile. Dentists use it to fill cavities, repair broken back teeth, fix chipped front teeth, rebuild a broken-down bite, completely change the appearance of the teeth with veneers, and seal out cavities. We love composite filling material!
One of the greatest advantages of composite fillings is that they are repairable. This means if a portion of the filling breaks or chips, the dentist does not have to remove the entire filling! This means less anesthesia, less drilling, and more conservative dentistry.
Do You or a Loved One Need a Filling?
If you are in need of a filling or other dental work, please call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location to schedule a consultation with one of our conservative dentists. We will discuss your treatment options and help you choose the filling that is right for you.