Composite Fillings

Over the last century there have been many attempts at developing dental fillings which give a more natural (tooth-coloured) restoration than amalgam, or gold which preceded it.

 

Today the commonly used “white filling” material is composite resin. This material is basically a plastic with microscopic particles of glass suspended in it. As with amalgam, there are different composites with a range of qualities and physical properties of this material. This means that there is a range of prices from the manufacturers to match a range of physical properties.

 

Without getting too bogged down on technicalities, a lot of research and development has gone into composite filling materials since they were first introduced in the 1970s. Generally speaking the more expensive the materials, the better their properties:

  • Strength
  • Stain-resistance
  • Colour-match to tooth colour
  • Polishability to give a smooth, natural look
  • Light refraction and reflection (to mimic the way natural tooth looks)

 

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of composite fillings vs. mercury amalgam?

Advantages

  • Composite resin fillings do not contain mercury and therefore do not leach out mercury over time.
  • The dentist won't need to drill as much of the tooth structure as with amalgam fillings.
  • They bond to your tooth, further supporting the remaining tooth structure. This helps prevent breakage and damage to your tooth.
  • They certainly look better, and are colour blended to match your natural tooth color.
  • These fillings are often used to improve the appearance of misshapen, chipped or discolored teeth.

 

Disadvantages

 

  • The composite filling material is more expensive.
  • They resin fillings require more time to apply than amalgam fillings. This results in an increased cost for placing composite fillings.
  • They are much more difficult to place
  • Composite fillings can stain over a period of time depending on factors such as tea, coffee and tobacco use.
  • These fillings do not get whiter if you bleach your teeth.
  • Composite fillings are strong on back teeth, but not as strong as amalgam; although the research and development of composite means that there is now little difference in strength between the two.

 

Again, similar to amalgam, in general the financial constraints of the NHS regulations often limits the dentist’s choice towards the cheaper end of the range, while outwith the NHS constraints, a dentist has more freedom to choose from the whole range of these materials and techniques of use. It should also be borne in mind that under NHS regulations it is illegal for a dentist to place anything other than mercury amalgam in adult teeth, if the filling involves the biting surface of any tooth behind the canines.

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