If you have to get a filling, you and your dentist have lots of materials to choose from. Before your appointment, get up to speed on your options.
Fillings That Look Like Your Teeth
Composite fillings are the most widely-used dental filling material. They're made of glass or quartz in resin.
Advantages: Your dentist can closely match the color of a composite filling to the color of your surrounding natural teeth.
Disadvantages: Just like your own teeth, composite fillings can stain or discolor over time.
Your dentist may consider a composite filling if the cavity is small to medium-sized or if the affected tooth gets a lot of chewing action. These may also be a good choice for people who are afraid of dental work, since composite can be bonded in place – which means less drilling.
Fillings That Release Fluoride
Among the newer options for dental fillings are glass ionomers, made of acrylic acids and fine-glass powders.
Advantages: Glass ionomer fillings can be colored to blend in with surrounding natural teeth. Plus, they can be designed to release small amounts of fluoride, which helps prevent decay.
Disadvantages: Glass ionomer fillings can fracture, so they aren't appropriate for chewing surfaces.
Because of their fragile nature, dentists may suggest this type of filling for cavities near the gum line or to fill between teeth.
Crowns That Look Like Your Teeth
When you need a crown, inlay, or veneer, the go-to material is typically porcelain, ceramic, or another glass-like material.
Advantages: The color and translucency closely matches natural teeth. The material is durable and very hard.
Disadvantages: Porcelain restorations require several dentist visits and can cost more than some other filling materials.
Dentists choose porcelain for veneers because it can be formed into very thin shells that can be placed over enamel.
Affordable Fillings That Last a Long Time
Dentists have used amalgam to fill cavities for more than a century. These fillings are alloys that combine silver, tin, copper, and mercury.
Advantages: Amalgam fillings are very durable and long-lasting. Plus, amalgam is one of the least expensive filling materials.
Disadvantages: Amalgam is silver-colored, so fillings will show. Cavities filled with amalgam are often temporarily sensitive to hot or cold.
Your dentist may opt for amalgam if your cavity is in a back molar because they stand up well to chewing. Some people may have concerns about the safety of mercury in amalgam, but the American Dental Association considers this material safe.
Affordable Crowns, Fixed Bridges, and Partials
“Silver” fillings are actually made of base metal alloys that look like silver. They are typically used for crowns, fixed bridges, and partial dentures.
Advantages: Silver fillings are strong and resistant to fracture and wear. They are also relatively inexpensive.
Disadvantages: Cavities filled with silver may be sensitive to heat or cold. Metal alloys do not match natural teeth.
Gold Crowns Resistant to Tarnishing
Gold fillings are indeed made of gold, combined with other metals. They are typically used for inlays, crowns, and fixed bridges.
Advantages: Gold fillings are very strong and highly resistant to corrosion and tarnishing.
Disadvantages: The metallic color doesn't match natural teeth, so gold is most often used for back teeth or cavities that don't show.