So you’re in the dental office and you need to have a cavity restored or a current filling replaced. What are your options?
Amalgam restorations, better known as “silver fillings,” is a term most of us have heard about. Dental amalgam is one of the most commonly used materials to fill cavities in decayed teeth. One of the reasons is that amalgam has a proven track record. It is widely used because it is durable and able to stand up to the intense pressure of chewing. For over 100 years, it has proven to be one of the safest, most effective and least expensive materials to fill a cavity.
These silver fillings are a mixture of silver, tin, copper and mercury. It’s the mercury that holds them together and makes them strong, hard and durable. In this form, the mercury is inactive and can’t hurt you. So even though very small amounts of mercury vapour are released when you chew or grind your teeth, there is no reason for alarm.
If you’re among the less than one percent of the population that is allergic to mercury, you may have an allergic response. If this is the case, symptoms, which are similar to common skin allergies, usually disappear within two to three weeks.
Typically, dental amalgam is used in children and adults for
- Small-to-medium-sized cavities in the back teeth, including molars.
- Teeth that absorb the intense stress and pressure from chewing.
- As a foundation for cast-metal, metal-ceramic and ceramic restorations when patient cooperation during the procedure or commitment to oral hygiene is poor.
You and your dentist should decide the best method to restore a tooth, whether you are replacing a filling, repairing a damaged tooth or filling a tooth for the first time. Since cavities are usually smaller today, alternative materials are being used more often.
Here is a brief review of the some of the other materials available to repair your teeth. Be sure to talk with your dentist about which material is best for you.
Composites: Composites are made from synthetic resins and are used to make attractive restorations in the front teeth. Your dentist will use a combination of composites and sealants to treat small cavities and maintain the structure of the tooth.
Glass Ionomers: Glass ionomers were first used in the 1970s and they chemically bond to the tooth. One of the beneficial side effects is that they release fluoride, further protecting the teeth. Since glass ionomers are usually not used on biting surfaces, their use is limited to baby teeth and root surfaces.
Gold Foil: Gold foil is not widely used today, partly due to its relatively high cost. While these fillings may last 20 years or more, they are not used for large or very visible areas.
Cast Metal and Metal-Ceramic: These restorations are typically used for inlays, onlays, crowns and bridges. Cast metal and metal ceramic-restorations are most often used 1) in teeth damaged from the stress of chewing and biting; 2) when moderate to severe breakdown of the tooth requires replacement; and 3) if you require a more pleasing appearance than that of an amalgam.
So the next time you are faced with a decision about restoring a decayed tooth, be sure to talk with your dentist about the best way for you to keep smiling on.