Making an informed decision to improve your oral health

While prevention is a vital part of protecting your oral health, so is making informed decisions about which dental treatments are best for you and your long-term oral health. While getting a cavity is never ideal, it’s still a learning experience. It teaches you how you can improve your oral hygiene routine and provides you with the opportunity to make a choice about a treatment to improve your long-term oral health. If you’ve just discovered you have a cavity, however, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you don’t know much about the different types of fillings. After all, finding the time to do in-depth research on topics like this can seem nearly impossible, especially if you’re already trying to juggle work and kids. We’ve done our best to gather the information you need to make an informed decision about your treatment.

What do fillings treat and how do they work?

Amalgam and tooth-colored fillings are both most often used to restore and protect teeth that have been damaged by tooth decay. Tooth-colored fillings can also repair cracked, chipped, or worn-down teeth. Dental fillings replace the damaged part of your tooth and are sculpted to fit the shape of your natural tooth. This allows the dental filling to restore the function of your tooth while acting as a seal against future decay, helping you to protect your long-term oral health.

What is involved in placing each type of filling?

When Drs. Barr and Diachenko place either type of filling, they first numb the area, remove any decay that’s present, and clean bacteria and debris from the area. They then place, harden, and polish the filling, checking your bite to make sure that it fits naturally. Amalgam and tooth-colored fillings are both placed this way, but tooth-colored fillings are placed in the damaged part of your tooth in layers instead of all at once. Your dentist cures each layer with a special light before moving onto the next layer, so there are a few extra steps involved in placing this type of filling. As a result, a tooth-colored filling will take up to 20 minutes longer to place than an amalgam filling, but there’s a tradeoff: the composite resin bonds to your tooth better than amalgam fillings do, so your dentist doesn’t have to remove as much healthy tooth material during the procedure. Aside from this, however, the experience of receiving an amalgam or tooth-colored filling is largely the same.

How do amalgam and tooth-colored fillings differ?

Even though they fulfill the same basic job, amalgam and tooth-colored fillings have quite a few differences. The most obvious difference is the appearance of the two types of fillings. Since amalgam fillings are made of metal, they’re very visible on your teeth—so much so that people can often spot them even on your molars when you laugh. Amalgam fillings can also stain the tooth over time, causing the whole tooth to take on a grayish appearance. In contrast, tooth-colored fillings are tinted to match the shade of your natural tooth. They blend in so well that no one will know they’re there, even if the filling is on one of your front teeth.

The other major differences between amalgam and tooth-colored fillings are their durability and flexibility. Since amalgam fillings are made of metal, they’re more durable than tooth-colored fillings. Amalgam fillings have the potential to last between 10 and 15 years if you care for them properly, while tooth-colored fillings generally last around 10 years with proper care. When you take a closer look, however, the flexibility of tooth-colored fillings give them an edge over amalgam fillings. Tooth-colored fillings have just a little give—which actually helps them act more naturally as you chew. Amalgams aren’t flexible, and this causes them to fail more often. The metal also expands and contracts from temperature changes, which can sometimes crack your natural tooth, especially if the filling is big.

How much does each type of filling cost?

While the material that your filling is made from certainly influences its cost, a number of other factors do, too. This includes details like which tooth needs the filling and how big the filling needs to be. As a result, it’s difficult to estimate the exact cost of a filling. When you visit our office for a consultation, Drs. Bar and Diachenko can provide you with an estimate for the cost of each type of filling for your specific case and how much your insurance is likely to cover. As a general rule, however, amalgam fillings cost less than tooth-colored fillings.

Under what circumstances would one be more beneficial than the other?

As long as you’re okay with the visibility of amalgam fillings, the material’s increased durability makes it a good choice for back molars that take a lot of wear and tear from chewing. Tooth-colored fillings are still very durable, however, and can be placed on back molars without a problem. If the tooth that needs a filling is very visible, such as one of your front teeth, a tooth-colored filling is a better choice. Additionally, although it’s rare, some people are allergic to one or more of the metals in amalgam fillings, so it’s wise to check this before you get your first amalgam filling.

Despite their many differences, amalgam and tooth-colored fillings both perform the same job: helping to restore and protect the health and function of your teeth. If you suspect you have a cavity or have any lingering questions about these types of fillings, feel free to call our office and schedule an appointment with Dr. Barr or Dr. Diachenko at any time.