Dental fillings are used to repair teeth that have been damaged by cavities and decay. Fillings can be made from several types of materials, depending on when and where they were placed. Teeth historically have been filled with either gold or silver amalgam. Technological advances in restorative materials have allowed dentists to use fillings made from composites, ceramics or glass ionomer. The dentist and patient can select from the different types of filling materials based on cost, cosmetic appearance and the material best suited for the particular job.
Its strength and malleability led to gold becoming one of the first materials commonly used for dental fillings. Gold remains one of the longest-lasting restorative materials and may not need to be replaced for 15 years or more. Some dentists avoid gold dental fillings because of the cost of the material and the need for extra office visits for proper placement, and patients may dislike the appearance of the darker filling against their white teeth.
Silver amalgam is another popular material for filling decayed teeth. Silver offers some of the same durability as gold and is generally less expensive than gold and composite materials. The silver amalgam does contain a small amount of mercury, which can cause an allergic reaction in a small percentage of patients. As with gold, silver amalgam is much darker than the surrounding teeth, and some patients dislike the final look.
Dentists may use fillings made from a composite resin in situations where the cosmetic appearance of the teeth is important to the patient. These dental fillings are made from a variety of materials that can be matched with the surrounding teeth. Composite fillings are typically less durable than gold or silver and may need to be replaced more often.
Porcelain or ceramic materials also can be used in fillings, as well as in dental restoration pieces such as bridges and crowns. These kinds of fillings combine the strength of metal and the more natural aesthetic appearance of composites. Ceramic restorations also can last for 15 years or more, but they can damage nearby teeth via daily wear and tear.
Glass ionomer cement is a compound of acrylic and glass used to repair gum-line decay and for regular fillings in younger patients. This compound is less durable than most of the other materials used for restorations and is typically not used around chewing surfaces. Dental fillings made from glass ionomer can be colored to look like the patient’s teeth and are often used to repair cavities in highly visible areas.