For decades, amalgam fillings, made of a combination of several metals, have been the standard for restoring decayed teeth. In recent years, however, more people have turned to tooth-colored fillings because they are more realistic looking. Some people have also decided against amalgam because of concerns about the mercury included in the mix of metals.
What are Amalgam Fillings?
If you’ve needed a filling recently, chances are your dentist offered you a choice between traditional amalgam fillings and tooth-colored fillings. You might have even discussed the possibility of replacing your old fillings with new ones made of dental resin. Before you make this decision, it’s important to know the facts about dental amalgam and the advantages offered by alternative materials.
Dental amalgam is made of a mixture of metals that includes silver, tin, and copper mixed into liquid mercury, which binds it all together. It has been used in dentistry for about 150 years. It is relatively inexpensive and strong enough to keep your tooth intact in the presence of normal wear and tear. Some people have expressed concern that the mercury in the amalgam releases small quantities of mercury vapor that can be absorbed into the bloodstream. To date, no studies have proven any severe side effects related to this phenomenon. However, this concern, as well as other considerations, has led many patients to choose tooth-colored alternatives that do not contain mercury.
Advantages of Tooth-Colored Fillings
Tooth-colored fillings—also called composite fillings—are made of a resin that bonds to the tooth in a way that amalgam cannot. This can help hold a tooth together if it has experienced minor cracks or other damage that can be caused by cavities. Other advantages of composite fillings include:
- They do not respond to changes in temperature
- They cannot conduct temperature to the tooth’s interior
- Your dentist generally has to remove less of the tooth to make room for the filling
- They can be used to modify the tooth’s shape if necessary
If you need a filling, be sure to talk to your dentist about your options. Also check with your insurance company to find out their policy on tooth-colored fillings versus dental amalgam.
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