Dental decay happens when the teeth’s enamel starts to erode because of the plaque acids produced by the bacteria inside the mouth. As the enamel erodes, it creates a small hole that eventually becomes deeper and penetrates the softer, middle layer of the teeth. Left untreated, the bacteria will continue to eat away the rest of the tooth.
To prevent the decay from spreading, your dentist will most probably advise dental fillings. Also known as dental restoration, dental fillings is a pretty common procedure that many people have had at least once in their life.
During a dental filling procedure, the dentist drills away the rotten part of the tooth and fills it with a material that will help restore its strength and bring it back to its former shape and size.
If you’re suspecting a possible tooth decay and think you might need a filling done soon, you might be interested to know that you have several options when it comes to dental filling materials.
Types of Dental Filling Materials
Silver Amalgam Fillings
Dentists have been using amalgam fillings for over 150 years now. Contrary to what its name suggests, silver amalgam isn’t made up of silver – it contains about 50 percent mercury mixed with other metals, most likely silver, tin, copper, or zinc.
Despite some controversy in the past concerning the mercury content of amalgam fillings (which the ADA and FDA approved to be safe, by the way), they remain as the "classic" option because not only are they very strong and long-lasting, they're also the lowest-priced. For dentists, silver amalgam is one of the easiest to work with; they fit into a cavity with little trouble and are not sensitive to blood or saliva contamination.
But while silver amalgam might seem the best choice in terms of price and durability, it also has its disadvantages. First, they're silver in color, so they're not exactly aesthetically pleasing especially for visible teeth. Also, the material expands and contracts over time, which may cause the tooth to crack or create spaces in between where bacteria can grow, and new cavities may form.
Admit it or not, silver fillings have become a thing of the past. These days, people want a natural-looking smile.
Composite fillings, typically made of acrylic resin and powdered glass, hold an aesthetic advantage over amalgam fillings.
What made composite fillings very popular is how they can be shaded to match your existing teeth color. It's a good choice for filling visible teeth as it blends in and doesn't draw attention, unlike silver.
The thing about composite fillings though, is that they’re made from a less durable set of materials and would have to be replaced in about five years.
Ceramic fillings are made of porcelain and, while they are more expensive than the other types of dental fillings, they earn points for both durability and aesthetics. If you’re conscious of your appearance and have a few extra bucks to spare, getting ceramic fillings should be a good idea – they look like natural teeth and are more resistant to staining and abrasion.
The downside to ceramic filling, however, is that they're brittle and fragile, so they have to be larger for them not to break. Ceramic restorations often require the area in the tooth to be made bigger. This procedure is typically referred to as inlays.
While this filling material is rarely used (or seen), it does exist. Gold fillings are—obviously—the most expensive, and finding a dentist who offers gold as an option can be quite a challenge. It is, however, not hard to argue that gold is sturdy; it won't corrode, and it will last longer.
Glass Ionomer Fillings
Children are prone to cavities too, and just like adults, they need to get those cavities filled. Glass Ionomer fillings are ideal for kids who need to have their baby teeth restored. They're delicate, but they can withstand considerable wear and tear. They can last for up to five years, by which time children should have already shed their primary teeth for permanent ones.
Though we try our hardest to keep our smiles beautiful and our teeth as healthy as possible, very few of us get far in life with all of our teeth in perfect shape. Experiencing dental decay may be inevitable, but luckily, we can always seek the help of our dentist for immediate repair.