There are a variety of different materials that dentists use to fix teeth. Last time you were in for your dental appointment, you may have heard words thrown around like: composite, amalgam, silver-filling, or porcelain. In this blog post Dr. Lara Locker (general dentistry) and Dr. Melanie Newman (pediatric dentistry) have broken down the differences between the major types of materials we use to repair teeth. If you would like more info about which type would be right for you and your teeth, click to schedule a consult appointment today!
If you’ve had a filling placed in the last ten years, chances are it’s made of composite resin. Composite mimics the appearance of natural tooth structure, so you might not even notice the difference between your tooth and your filling! Composite works by creating a chemical bond between the tooth and the filling. The bonus is that more recent advances in technology have made composite filling materials match the strength of teeth. This means you don’t have to choose between beauty and function! The vast majority of fillings placed by the dentists at Fountainhead Dentistry are composites. Composite fillings are typically a good choice for smaller to moderate size cavities. As cavities get larger, and cover more surfaces of the tooth, other materials like metal or porcelain crowns need to be considered.
Composite resin may be used for functional fillings as described above, but also has cosmetic applications. As you can see in our veneer page, composite can be bonded to the outside of your tooth to create a veneer. Composite veneers can be an amazing option to change the appearance of your teeth. We can use them to alter the size, shape, and shade of your teeth. They also tend to be more affordable than their porcelain cousins (see below).
Amalgam is just another name for silver fillings. It’s called amalgam because it is an amalgamation (or mix) of a variety of different metals. Amalgam used to be the main type of dental filling material, prior to advances in composite. Amalgam is composed of silver, tin, copper, and mercury. Many patients prefer to avoid amalgam fillings when possible due to the mercury content. However, there is no data to support that dental amalgam causes mercury toxicity. All of that being said, at Fountainhead Dentistry we almost never use amalgam. Because of its silver color, it is always noticeable when your tooth has an amalgam filling. In addition, if you have a metal allergy or sensitivity, there is a chance you could have a reaction to the amalgam! If that’s not enough already, amalgam fillings also tend to enlarge over time. That can put pressure on the tooth structure leading to fractures, which could mean costly repairs or eventually even needing to extract your tooth. Because of all of these reasons and more, the dentists at Fountainhead Dentistry will not place amalgam fillings in your teeth unless you specifically request it!
Some of our patients are interested in removing their already existing amalgam fillings. In order to remove these fillings safely, we take several steps. First, we use a rubber dam barrier, in which your tooth is isolated from the rest of your mouth. This will prevent you from swallowing any amalgam pieces. In addition, we use high volume evacuation to remove any amalgam particles that may enter the water spray. Lastly, we ensure that your tooth is completely free of amalgam before we replace your filling with composite.
Porcelain is another common material used to restore teeth. Dental porcelain can be used to make veneers, inlays, onlays, or crowns. Porcelain veneers are typically a cosmetic restoration only, consisting of a very thin layer of porcelain used to change the size, shape, or shade of your teeth. Inlays and onlays are another type of porcelain restoration that covers only part of your tooth, adding structural support. Porcelain crowns cover the entire tooth surface, and add the most amount of structural support. Crowns are typically needed on teeth with very large cavities or teeth that have root canals. The benefit of porcelain is in esthetics and strength! It is the most natural looking dental material – you typically can’t even tell the difference between a tooth and a good crown. The decision to use porcelain or composite depends totally on the patient and each specific tooth. If you are wondering which would be a better choice for you, schedule a consult appointment with us today
Glass ionomer is another type of tooth colored filling material. Glass ionomer works similarly to composite resin, in that it creates a chemical bond attaching it to the tooth surface. However, the main difference is that it actually has the ability to release fluoride over time. This helps protect your teeth over time until a more permanent dental filling can be placed. The only downside is that even though glass ionomer comes in “tooth colors,” it tends to be more opaque than composite resin. This means it doesn’t blend in with your tooth structure as well, so it can be somewhat noticeable.
Silver Diamine Fluoride
Silver Diamine Fluoride is a newer type of dental treatment, typically used on children or patients with extreme amounts of dental decay. Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) is a liquid that is simply applied to the surface of a cavity. While it does not remove or fill cavities, SDF slows the progression of decay and prevents the cavities from growing or spreading. This can be particularly useful in treating cavities in very young children or people with special needs. SDF is quick to apply, painless, and safe to use. SDF allows us to keep the decay from getting worse, so we can take our time and treat each cavity one by one. The only downside is the stain! Once SDF is applied to the cavity, it turns the cavity black.
We have reviewed some of the most common dental materials used to restore teeth. Any of the dental restorative materials could be a good fit depending on your teeth and your specific needs. If you still have questions about this information be sure to ask your dentist at your next appointment, or schedule a consultation today!