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Tooth fillings: choose the right dental restoration option for you

dental fillings

How long do fillings last? Are fillings painful? Which type of dental fillings should I choose? What’s the difference between white composite fillings, silver amalgam fillings, glass ionomer fillings and ceramic fillings? These are some of the questions going through the mind of anyone in need of tooth filling. We can help answer them so that you can make the right decision when dealing with a tooth cavity.

What are dental fillings used for?

When a tooth starts developing a cavity due to tooth decay, it needs to be repaired with a dental filling. The sooner this simple procedure is carried out, the better: when left untreated, a cavity continuously increases in size, creating a black hole in the tooth, which can lead to a wide range of problems such as toothache (including sharp pain), bad breathabscesses and eventually tooth loss.

Types of dental fillings

There are different types of dental fillings available that range from silver amalgam fillings to white composite fillings or glass ionomer fillings, but which one should you opt for when going to the dentist? Let’s find out more about them.

Silver amalgam fillings

Silver dental fillings are made of a metal amalgam obtained by adding liquid mercury to a combination of different metals (called alloy) that includes silvertincopper and other trace metals. Once the tooth is cleaned off any decayed part, the filling is inserted in the cavity, which must be previously coated with a bonding agent due to the fact that, contrary to white composite ones, silver fillings do automatically glue to the tooth when applied.

Even though it’s are quite durable (usually lasting 15-20 years), this type of fillings is considered old fashioned and its use has been steadily decreasing over time. White fillings are usually the dental restoration option of choice now, not only for cosmetic reasons – without a doubt they are more eye-pleasing than silver fillings – but also because there’ve been concerns over the toxicity of mercury and the potential health issues associated with a prolonged exposure to it.

White composite fillings

White composite fillings are made of a mixture of resin and a type of glass known as silicon dioxide, which in some cases is replaced by glass ionomer. They are used to fill the black hole caused by the cavity once the tooth has been cleaned.

The filling is initially very malleable and it is applied in layers directly to the tooth, each layer must be then hardened with the help of a blue light. They are very popular mainly due to cosmetic reasons – they blend well with the rest of the tooth – and they usually last between 7-15 years.

White composite fillings in the past were not used for teeth at the back of the mouth (molars) because the composite available then was not resistant enough to withstand the stress of chewing. With new technologies, however, the composition of this type of fillings has changed and the new formula has made them almost as long lasting as silver fillings, therefore suitable for both front and back teeth.

White glass ionomer fillings

White ionomer fillings are made with acrylic and a type of glass called fluoroaluminosilicate. They are less durable than white composite fillings and they are usually applied only to non-biting areas of the tooth for cosmetic restoration purposes.

Just like composite fillings, glass ionomer fillings bond directly to the tooth without any previous preparation besides cavity cleaning.

Ceramic fillings

Ceramic fillings are made with porcelain and they are the most durable type of white fillings, as they normally last over 15 years. One other reason why people would choose ceramic fillings over composite resin fillings is the fact that they tend to get less stained over time, even when exposed to drinks and food known to affect the colour of the teeth such as tea and coffee. The only downside is their cost: they are the most expensive type of white fillings available.

Gold fillings

Gold fillings, also known as gold dental restorations or gold inlays/onlays, have been used for many years. Gold fillings are typically made from a mixture of goldcopper and other metals. They are very durable and can withstand the forces of chewing and grinding over time, however, they can be more expensive than other types of dental fillings such as composite or amalgam ones.

It’s also worth noting that the use of gold fillings has declined in recent years due to the popularity of tooth-coloured composite fillings, which can be made to closely match the colour of natural teeth and provide a more aesthetically pleasing result. However, gold fillings may still be recommended in certain cases, such as for larger cavities or for teeth that undergo a lot of wear and tear.

Are tooth fillings painful?

Applying dental fillings is not considered a painful procedure. The dentist, however, would normally use a numbing agent such as an injection of local anaesthetic prior to the tooth cleaning in order to minimise discomfort.

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