No one wants to get fillings when they visit the dentist’s office, but sometimes they are necessary to preserve the health of your teeth and to keep small problems from becoming large, painful ones. If it is discovered that you have a cavity that can be restored with a filling, we will remove the decayed areas of the tooth, clean it, and then place a filling in the cavity. At the Stavros Kelogrigoris Dental Practice, we offer mercury-free fillings, which have a myriad of benefits for the patient.
Dentists have been using dental amalgam for about 150 years. Amalgam is an alloy that’s created by combining elemental mercury, silver, tin, and copper. This alloy has been used extensively throughout the last century to fill cavities. The mercury is combined with other metals to give it the necessary properties to function in teeth. However, over the years there have been questions as to its safety. Some people ask, "If mercury is toxic, how can mercury in our mouths be safe?" According to the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Public Health Service, mercury-based fillings are safe and reliable.
The advantages of amalgam fillings are that they can withstand a high chewing load, which is why they are often used to treat cavities in the back of the mouth. They are useful in certain situations and generally last quite some time. So why not use amalgam? There are several reasons why mercury-free fillings are better for the health and appearance of your teeth.
In the short-term, mercury-free fillings cause less sensitivity to cold temperatures in foods and drinks. Beyond the short-term, mercury-free, or composite, fillings have numerous benefits. Composite fillings have a similar flexibility to tooth structure whereas amalgam is more rigid than tooth structure because it is a metal. This property of amalgam makes the tooth more vulnerable to breaking. Composite fillings, on the other hand, help to restore the tooth’s natural strength because the filling material bonds to the tooth. Instead of weakening the tooth, the filling gives it more strength. This can help prevent breaks or chips in your teeth.
But let’s see in details what a dental composite is and what are the advantages and disadvantages of this dental material.
What is a Dental Composite (White Filling)?
A composite filling is a tooth-colored plastic and glass mixture used to restore decayed teeth. Composites are also used for cosmetic improvements of the smile by changing the color of the teeth or reshaping disfigured teeth.
How is a Dental Composite placed?
Following preparation, the dentist places the composite in layers, typically using a light specialized to harden each layer. When the process is finished, the dentist will shape the composite to fit the tooth. The dentist then polishes the composite to prevent staining and early wear.
What are the advantages of composites?
• Color and shading can be matched to the existing tooth;
• Composite is a relatively strong material, providing good durability in small to mid-sized restorations that need to withstand moderate chewing pressure;
• Composite may generally be used on either front or back teeth;
• Fillings are usually completed in a single visit (with exceptions noted below);
• Moderately resistant to breakage;
• Often permits preservation of as much of the tooth as possible;
• Low risk of leakage if bonded only to enamel;
• Does not corrode;
• Generally holds up well to biting force (dependent on the material used);
• Moderately resistant to further decay, new decay is easy to find;
• Frequency of repair or replacement is low to moderate.
What are the disadvantages?
This type of filling can break and wear out more easily than metal fillings, especially in areas of heavy biting force. Therefore, composite fillings may need to be replaced more often than metal fillings;
• Compared to other fillings, composites are sometimes difficult and time-consuming to place.
They cannot be used in all situations;
• Composite generally is more expensive than amalgam;
• May require more than one visit for inlays, veneers and crowns;
• May wear faster than natural dental enamel;
• May leak over time when bonded beneath the layer of enamel;
• In rare cases, a localized, allergic reaction such as inflammation or rash may occur.
· After receiving a composite, a patient may experience postoperative sensitivity. Also, the shade of the composite can change slightly if the patient drinks tea, coffee or other staining foods. The dentist can put a clear plastic coating over the composite to prevent the color from changing if a patient is particularly concerned about tooth color. Composites tend to wear out sooner than silver fillings in larger cavities, although they hold up as well in small cavities.
Inlays/onlays are sometimes good alternatives to composite fillings, offering excellent long term durability. In cases of extensive decay, inlays/onlays or crowns is the only alternative.
Are Amalgam-Type Fillings Safe?
Over the past several years, concerns have been raised about silver-colored fillings, otherwise called amalgams. Because amalgams contain the toxic substance mercury, some people think that amalgams are responsible for causing a number of diseases, including autism, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis.
The American Dental Association (ADA), the FDA, and numerous public health agencies say amalgams are safe, and that any link between mercury-based fillings and disease is unfounded. The causes of autism, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis remain unknown. Additionally, there is no solid, scientific evidence to back up the claim that if a person has amalgam fillings removed, he or she will be cured of these or any other diseases.
As recently as March of 2002, the FDA reconfirmed the safety of amalgams. Although amalgams do contain mercury, when they are mixed with other metals, such as silver, copper, tin, and zinc, they form a stable alloy that dentists have used for more than 100 years to fill and preserve hundreds of millions of decayed teeth. The National Institutes of Health has several large-scale studies currently under way to ultimately answer many of the questions raised about silver-colored amalgams. Results of these studies are expected to be released in 2006.
In addition, there has been concern over the release of a small amount of mercury vapor from these fillings, but according to the ADA, there is no scientific evidence that this small amount results in adverse health effects.