Despite our best efforts with brushing and flossing as well as visiting the dentist for checkups, a vast majority of us will get a cavity sometime during our lifetime. In fact, about 90% of all Americans have experienced at least one cavity in a permanent tooth.
In the past, getting a tooth filled at the dentist meant just one thing — the restoration would use some sort of metal, like gold, or in later years a combination of metals that included silver, mercury, tin, or copper.
While metal fillings, sometimes referred to as silver fillings or amalgams, certainly do the trick when it comes to filling a cavity, it does nothing for the physical appearance of a smile. In fact, just the opposite; it effectively becomes a literal billboard advertising a patient’s oral health history.
Thankfully, those days are gone. Innovations in dentistry provide numerous choices in the materials used to fill cavities as well as to address things like cracked or chipped teeth. While choices are great, how do you weigh what’s best for you when it comes to metal versus tooth-colored fillings?
In this blog, our own Dr. Meriem Boukadoum here at 54th Street Dental gives you the lowdown on tooth-colored fillings so that you better understand what’s right for you.
A great place to start this discussion is to explain the nuances of both options as well as how the differences affect appearances, process, and durability.
Whether you go with a tooth-colored filling or a metal one, your dental provider needs to remove the decay and prepare the tooth for the filling. The procedure using either material typically occurs in one dental visit. But that’s where the similarities end.
Tooth-colored fillings, sometimes referred to as white or composite resin fillings, are made from a blend of materials like plastic, quartz, glass, and ceramic. This special compound is designed to reproduce the look and luminosity of natural tooth enamel, making it easier for your dentist to match the color of the tooth being treated as well as neighboring teeth.
With traditional metal fillings, your dentist uses a dental tool to push the material into the prepared hole to restore the tooth.
With tooth-colored fillings, the material is more complex, as the material is bonded or painted onto the tooth in layers. After applying each layer, your dentist uses a special light to cure, or harden, the layer. Once the proper number of layers are bonded and cured, your dentist shapes the material, and completes the restoration by trimming off any excess material and polishing it off.
The most obvious difference between metal and tooth-colored fillings is the appearance. Tooth-colored fillings mimic the appearance of your natural tooth in both shine and color, making it difficult to pick out a restoration compared to the surrounding teeth. This natural quality makes composite resin fillings a great option for restorations for front teeth or teeth most visible when you smile or laugh.
Another thing that separates tooth-colored fillings from metal ones is that the layered bonding process tends to make the restored tooth stronger than a restoration with a metal filling. Similarly, because your dentist bonds tooth-colored fillings to the tooth instead of filling it, less tooth preparation — essentially the removal of a healthy tooth is required to accommodate the restoration.
While it’s true that metal fittings are less expensive and can last 10 to 15 years before needing to be replaced, tooth-colored fillings are typically preferred by patients looking for a more aesthetically pleasing quality.
The aesthetics of tooth-colored fillings also make it a much more versatile restoration option not only for filling cavities, but also for restoring cracked or chipped teeth. While tooth-colored fillings last about half the time of a metal filling, patients who prefer a virtually invisible restoration typically trade the additional cost for the freedom of smiling without embarrassing metal restorations.
If you need a tooth restoration and want to learn more about what kind of filling is right for you, contact 54th Street Dental to schedule a consultation. To reach us, use the online booking tool or call our office in the Midtown West neighborhood of New York City at 212-333-3200.