Cavities are one of the most common ailments that affect US adults. About 96% of US adults develop cavities in their teeth at some point. And for most cavities, fillings are the standard treatment. In the past, dentists used metal amalgam fillings, a technology that is almost 200 years old. Today, we have much better alternatives for filling cavities. White fillings are a more attractive alternative, and they can be healthier for your teeth and you. They can also be longer lasting.
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Benefits of White Fillings
White fillings are becoming more popular these days because they offer many attractive benefits. White fillings:
- Blend in with your teeth
- Seal the tooth against secondary decay
- Can be more conservative
- Don’t cause expansion cracking in your teeth
- Are better insulators against heat and cold
- Don’t cause a metallic taste in your mouth
- Don’t participate in galvanic currents
The most visible benefit of white fillings is that they are white, as opposed to metal amalgam fillings, which start out silver and can turn black after they are in your mouth. This makes fillings look as bad as or worse than the decay they’re supposed to treat. And even when used in inconspicuous locations, they can completely discolor a tooth.
White fillings also bond with your teeth. Metal amalgam fillings are just shoved into a hole in your teeth, hoping that pressure will hold them in.
Partly because of the way they work, metal amalgam fillings require a certain amount of drilling to create a hole large enough for the filling. They can require the removal of significant amounts of your natural tooth material. White fillings don’t require as much removal of tooth material. They can be used for smaller cavities to help preserve more of your natural tooth.
Another significant problem with metal amalgam fillings is that, as a metal, they are very sensitive to changes in temperature. When exposed to heat, they expand, and when they’re exposed to cold they contract–much faster than your natural tooth material. In heat, then, they can put significant pressure on your teeth–remember, they’re shoved in very tightly to hold them in place–which can lead to cracks in your teeth. And when they’re cold, there’s a microscopic space around the filling that can allow food, liquid, and bacteria to enter.
The expansion under heat can also make the filling put down onto your tooth pulp, causing heat sensitivity. But whether exposed to heat or cold, the metal fillings conduct that temperature change into your tooth, sometimes close enough to the pulp that you will feel sensitive to both heat and cold.
Because metal amalgam fillings are made of metal, they can sometimes cause a metallic taste in your mouth. This is sometimes related to the galvanic currents that develop around metal amalgam. Galvanic currents are the basic principle that all batteries are designed on. Put two dissimilar metals in a liquid, and they will create a current. Metal amalgam fillings can create a current gold or other metal restorations, brace wire, or any metallic object you stick in your mouth, such as a fork. The currents aren’t painful, but they can be damaging to the filling and other metals.
Two Types of White Fillings
White fillings actually come in two different types. Resin or composite fillings are made of plastic that has ceramic embedded in it for strength. Ceramic fillings are made entirely of ceramic.
Resin fillings have the advantage of being quick and easy to place. They can be done in a single visit, and are relatively inexpensive.
Ceramic fillings are more durable and more attractive than resin fillings. They can last even longer than metal amalgam fillings. But they require multiple visits to complete and are more expensive.