Q What is a filling?
A A dental filling is a dental restorative material used to restore the function, integrity and morphology of missing tooth structure. The structural loss typically results from caries or external trauma.
Dental restorations can be divided into two broad types: direct restorations and indirect restorations. All dental restorations can be further classified by their location and size. A root canal filling is a restorative technique used to fill the space where the dental pulp normally resides.
Amalgam or silver fillings are the metal coloured fillings that many people have. Amalgam was the traditional material used for fillings for many years. Nowadays, there are a variety of materials available to restore teeth, including 'white' or 'tooth-coloured' resorations.
Q What are amalgam fillings?
A Amalgam is the grey filling material commonly used to restore back teeth. The material is a combination of silver, tin and mercury, and has been the mainstay of dental restorations for decades.
Amalgam is a hard wearing material, but there are certain drawbacks; namely appearance and the presence of mercury. Although there is no definitive medical evidence relating dental amalgam to certain conditions, there is a growing pressure both within and outside the profession to limit its use in dentistry.
The appearance of dental amalgam is more clear-cut. Most patients do not like grey filling in their teeth, and for these people composite resin (white fillings) are the solution.
Q Why should I consider white fillings?
A Most people have fillings of one sort or another in their mouths. Nowadays fillings are not only functional, but can be natural looking as well. Many people don’t want silver fillings that show when they laugh or smile because they are more self-conscious.
Q Are they as good as silver amalgam fillings?
A White fillings have always been considered less long-lasting than silver amalgam fillings. But there are now new materials available with properties comparable with silver amalgam, and these are proving to be very successful. The life expectancy of a white filling can depend greatly on where it is in your mouth and how heavily your teeth come together when you bite. Your dentist can advise you on the life expectancy of your fillings.
Q Is it worth replacing my amalgam fillings with white ones?
A It is usually best to change fillings only when your dentist decides that an old filling needs replacing. If so you can ask
to have it replaced in a tooth-coloured material.
Some dentists prefer not to put white fillings in back teeth, as they are not always successful. One way around this would be to use crowns or inlays, but this can mean removing more of the tooth and can be more expensive.
Q What are tooth-coloured fillings made from?
A This can vary, but they are mainly made of glass particles, synthetic resin and a setting ingredient. Your dentist should be able to give you more information about the particular material that they use.
Q Are there any alternatives to fillings?
A Adhesive dentistry is another form of this treatment. This involves bonding the filling to the tooth. The dentist has
to remove less of the tooth, which is obviously better.
As we have already said, there are alternatives such as crowns and inlays although they can cost a lot more. Veneers can be used on front teeth instead of crowns or fillings.
Please ask your dentist if you wish to know more about fillings.