Restorative dental care today has many choices of materials and techniques, and these choices need to be considered and thoroughly discussed with the dentist before deciding on the one most appropriate for your child. Restorative procedures are often referred to as “fillings”. A cavity full of dental decay is first cleaned out and then filled with certain materials to prolong the lifespan of the natural tooth and also to prevent it from further deterioration. Fillings are also used for chipped, worn, broken and cracked teeth.
Choosing the best filling material is crucial not only for aesthetic concerns but more importantly for dental health considerations. There are two popular materials used for dental fillings: amalgam and composite. Both materials have their pros and cons, so it’s important to understand the differences.
Amalgam is made up of silver, zinc, copper, tin and mercury. This material is durable, and it can last for about ten to fifteen years. It is also strong and more affordable than its composite resin counterpart. Most insurance companies still consider it the only material they have coverage for and will “downgrade” pay for composites to that of amalgam. However, aesthetically speaking, it is not so pleasant-looking since it is not tooth-colored. Since it adheres to the tooth through mechanical forces, large and precise preparations must be cut in the tooth. Amalgam also has the tendency to expand and contract more which in the long run can weaken the teeth and create fractures and cracks. Another concern for many is the fact that mercury has been associated with overall health issues. Many dentists, including Dr. Collins, have moved away from using this material in order to minimize possible mercury contamination.
Composite fillings are more popular than amalgam because it comes in a variety of shades that can match natural tooth color. Aesthetically speaking, this is preferred by many patients. This material is popularly used on front teeth. It bonds to the natural tooth chemically, providing support in the process. It therefore strengthens the teeth. Composite fillings are usually used for decayed teeth, but since composite material is versatile, it also used for worn, cracked or chipped teeth. Less tooth structure is removed in order to accommodate it, which is a significant advantage over amalgam.
Much research is done constantly on improving composite materials and their bonding to teeth so today’s composite fillings last as long as amalgams. Applying composite fillings also need a good dentist as it is technique sensitive and takes a longer time at the chair than amalgam. Dr. Collins is well trained in the placement of composite fillings.
Dr. Collins believes that composite filling is the better choice for her young patients because it supports the natural tooth structure and in the process makes it stronger, can be used in front and back teeth, can also be used to repair minor damages (i.e., chipped teeth), and looks like the real tooth without the overall health risks associated with mercury.