Fillings are synthetic materials that are used to restore a portion of a tooth damaged by decay or traumatic injury. There are different types of materials used to fill cavities, including gold, composites, and metal alloys.
Conventional amalgams are the silver-colored material many people have had placed in their teeth following treatment of a cavity. Many amalgams are actually a combination of many metal alloys, including copper, silver, tin, and mercury. Mercury, used as a binding agent in amalgams, has come under close scrutiny lately by some health officials who claim it may cause long-term health problems.
Is Mercury in a Dental Filling Safe?
The American Dental Association cautions that emotional reports claiming amalgam is responsible for a variety of diseases are confusing and perhaps even alarming people to a elevated point where they will not seek necessary dental care. Moreover, the ADA maintains that there has been no scientific evidence to show that amalgams are harmful because the tiny amounts of mercury are so stable, they present no risks to humans. There have been rare cases of patients developing allergic reactions to amalgams.
There are alternatives to conventional substances used in amalgams, such as gold and metal alloys. These include materials made from porcelain and composite resins, which are colored to match natural tooth enamel. These materials are improving to where they are close to matching the strength and durability of conventional dental amalgam, but still may need more frequent replacement.
Common amalgam alternatives include:
- Composite fillings - As stated under Cosmetic Fillings, composite fillings are just what the name implies: a mixture of resins and ultra-fine particles designed to mimic the color of natural teeth. While close to the strength of dental amalgams, composite fillings provide a pleasing aesthetic alternative. Sometimes composite resins need to be cemented or bonded to a tooth to allow for improved adhesion.
- Ionomers - Like composite resins, these materials are tooth-colored. Ionomers are made from a combination of various materials, including ground glass and acrylic resins. Ionomers are typically used for fillings beside the gum line or tooth root, where biting pressure is not a factor. They are more fragile than dental amalgam, however. A small amount of fluoride is released by these compounds in order to facilitate strengthened enamel in the affected area.
- Porcelain (ceramic) - These materials are usually a combination of porcelain, glass powder, and ceramic. Candidates for porcelain fillings are typically bridges, crowns, veneers, and onlays and inlays. Unlike ionomers, porcelain fillings are more durable, but can become fractured if exposed to prolonged biting pressures.