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.
Your dentist may choose a composite filling if the size of your cavity is small to medium, or if your tooth gets a lot of chewing action.
These may also be a good choice for people who are afraid of dental work, since a composite can be bonded in place, which means less drilling.
Advantages: Your dentist can closely match the color of a composite filling to the color of your teeth.
Cons: Composite fillings can stain or discolor over time, just like your teeth.
Fillings That Release Fluoride
The newer options for dental fillings include glass ionomers, made of acrylic acids and fine-glass powders.
Pros: They can be colored to blend in with your nearby teeth. They also can be designed to release small amounts of fluoride, which helps prevent decay.
Cons: These fillings can break, so they're not a good choice for surfaces that do a lot of chewing. Your dentist may instead suggest that you use it for a cavity near your 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 substance.
Pros: The color closely matches your teeth. These materials hold up for a long time and are very hard.
Cons: You'll need several visits to your dentist to get a tooth restored with porcelain, and it can cost more than other options.
Dentists choose porcelain for veneers because it can be formed into thin shells that fit over the surface of your teeth.
Affordable, Long-Lasting Fillings
Dentists have used amalgam to fill cavities for more than a century. These fillings combine silver, tin, copper, and mercury.
Pros: They're long-lasting and relatively inexpensive.
Cons: Amalgam is silver-colored, so other people may see them when you smile. Also, you may be temporarily sensitive to hot or cold after you get a filling.
Your dentist may suggest amalgam if your cavity is in a back molar, because it stands up well to chewing.
Some people may have concerns about the safety of mercury in amalgam, but the American Dental Association says this material is safe.
Affordable Crowns, Fixed Bridges, and Partials
What people call "silver" fillings are actually made by mixing metals that look like silver. They are typically used for crowns, fixed bridges, and partial dentures.
Pros: The material is strong. It isn't likely to break or wear down. It's also relatively inexpensive.
Cons: You may find that it makes your teeth sensitive to heat or cold. Also, the color won't match your teeth.
Gold Crowns, Inlays, and Bridges
Gold fillings are indeed made of gold, combined with other metals. They are typically used for inlays, crowns, and fixed bridges.
Pros: They're strong and aren't likely to break down or stain.
Cons: The color won't match your teeth, so it's most often used for back teeth or cavities that don't show. Also, it can be relatively expensive.