Dental fillings are used to restore worn or damaged teeth and treat tooth decay. Improvements in oral health mean the need for fillings is generally on the decline. Thorough and regular cleaning of teeth and a healthy diet can help eliminate dental decay and avoid the need for fillings. However, because our teeth do the heavy chewing all the time, wear and tear is inevitable.
A dentist will use a drill or other instruments to remove decay. The hole is cleaned and dried, then sealed with a filling material.
Old filling materials include dental amalgam. Its use is on the decline and is already banned in some countries due to its Mercury content. Some European countries, such as Sweden, have been trying to phase out the use of amalgam dental fillings for environmental reasons. Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, incorrect disposal of materials like dental amalgam can add to mercury levels in the environment that concentrate in the food chain.
People who are advised to avoid getting new amalgam fillings or having existing ones removed or replaced include:
- Pregnant women – mercury may cross the placenta and enter the bloodstream of the fetus.
- Women who are breastfeeding – mercury may be passed to the baby through breast milk.
- Children – growing and developing teeth are more sensitive to the effects of any chemical substances in the environment, including mercury.
- People with kidney disease – high levels of mercury exposure can affect the kidneys, so exposure to mercury should be minimized for people with kidney disease.
The more modern fillings are tooth-colored ones. Improvements in these filling materials have made them the restoration of choice in most cases nowadays.
The advantages of tooth-coloured composites are :
- Aesthetics – the shade/color of the composite fillings can be closely matched to the color of existing teeth. Composites are particularly well suited for use in front teeth or visible parts of teeth.
- Bonding to tooth structure – composite fillings actually chemically bond to tooth structure, providing further support.
- Versatility – in addition to use as a filling material for decay, composite fillings can also be used to repair chipped, broken, or worn teeth.
- Tooth-sparing preparation – less tooth structure needs to be removed compared with amalgam fillings when removing decay and preparing for the filling.
The disadvantages of tooth-coloured composites are :
- Lack of durability – composite fillings wear out sooner than ceramics for larger cavities.
- Expense – composite fillings can cost up to twice the cost of amalgam fillings.
In addition to tooth-colored, composite resin fillings, two other tooth-colored fillings exist. These are ceramics and glass ionomers.
These fillings are made most often of porcelain and are more resistant to staining than composite resin material. This material generally lasts more than 15 years and can cost as much as gold.
Ceramics are currently milled on the spot and you receive your filling on the same day. They are generally very durable and have results similar to those of gold fillings.