Has your dentist recently told you that you have a cavity that needs to be filled? Or maybe you have an old filling that needs to be replaced? You and your dentist have choices for what to fill into your tooth. The two most common choices are composite and amalgam materials.

Composite fillings are white, or tooth-colored, and are the preferred choice for many patients who are concerned with the aesthetics of a filling.

Amalgam fillings are silver, or a dark metallic color. This type of filling material has been used for over 150 years. Because of it’s color, it is highly visible in the mouth.

Let’s look at some of the top questions patients have about filling materials:

What are they made of?

Amalgam fillings are a mixture of several metals. About half is liquid mercury and half is a combination of silver, tin, and copper. This combination of materials is strong, very durable, and safe. According to the FDA, use of “dental amalgam fillings (is) safe for adults and children ages 6 and above.” In it’s studies, the FDA “found no link between dental amalgam fillings and health problems.”

Composite fillings are made from a mixture of plastic and glass, and can very closely match natural tooth color. The plastic component is made from acrylic resin. These materials are considered very safe by the FDA. The composite material can be discolored by coffee and tea.

How long do they last?

At some point, all fillings (tooth restorations) will need to be replaced. Filling materials are not indestructible and do wear out. A good rule of thumb is that composite fillings will last 7 to 10 years and amalgam fillings will last 10 to 15 years. Good dental hygiene, including regular dental checkups, may prolong the life of any dental work. Also, wearing a night guard to protect your teeth and fillings from grinding will prevent fracturing your dental work.

What are the advantages of each?

Composite filling materials are preferred by many patients for aesthetic reasons. Once the tooth is repaired, the filling is nearly invisible. However, amalgam fillings are well known to be much more durable than composite fillings. Amalgam fillings are less expensive, and are generally covered by insurance. Not all dental insurance will pay the increased cost of a composite filling, and the patient must pay the difference.

Are there any other options?

Yes, there are other filling materials available. Gold and porcelain are used in dental work. However, both gold and porcelain cost much more than amalgam or composite fillings and are rarely covered by dental insurance. Also, these materials take longer to apply to the tooth, making dental work longer and more complicated. Both materials are safe and durable.

Are you concerned you may have a cavity? Or are you concerned about any of your dental work options? Please call the offices of Dr. James Colson of Colson Dental Group in Raleigh, at 919-231-6053. Dr. Colson will gladly discuss all your options for fillings and other dental needs.