When you have tooth decay or a cavity, the “first line of defense,” is to use a dental filling. Your family dentist will remove the decayed area of the tooth and fill the hole with a material designed to restore and strengthen the tooth. This keeps your mouth healthy and your smile bright, and, when cared for, can last the rest of your life without any problems!
One question we are asked at our Raleigh family dentistry office is, “What are dental fillings made of?” While some people are just curious, many are understandably concerned about exposure to dangerous chemicals or toxins, especially in their mouths. Fillings can be made from a variety of materials, but you can feel confident that your dentist will work with you to determine the best material for your filling and also, no matter what is chosen, that it is proven to be safe and effective.
To help you have better understanding about what goes into dental fillings, we’re sharing some information about materials that used to be used along with what is used in modern dentistry today.
Dental Fillings in Ancient History
We think of dentistry as a fairly modern practice, but in reality, as long as people have had teeth, they’ve needed care. A research team near Trieste, Italy found a skeleton that was approximately 6,500 years old and had a dental filling made of beeswax. In Ancient Egypt and Greece, texts refer to treating tooth decay and tooth pain, as well as use wires to stabilize loose teeth.
Gold fillings, which we have seen throughout history, made their first appearance in 201 CE (or 201 AD) in research of the Ancient Etruscans who lived in what is now much of Italy.
Amalgam As the Common Dental Filling Material
For much of history between 1000 CE and 1800, fillings were primarily made with gold or other metals that were heated, softened, and pressed into a cavity. In 1819, an invention in dentistry would change dental fillings moving forward. A chemist in England, only known as Bell, invented the mercury-based amalgam filling.
Amalgam was a composite of mercury and another metal, usually silver, and quickly spread through England and France, reaching the United States shores in 1830. Within a few years, dangerous side effects were widely reported, causing concerns about mercury poisoning. However, dentists continued to use these materials as they were faster and easier to use than gold and they were cheaper, too.
Some dentists preferred to use porcelain or gold to create fillings through the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as amalgam caused continued controversy. However, amalgam fillings made up a vast majority of fillings placed though studies continued to come out, all the way into the 1990s, showing complications and hazards of these fillings due to the high ratio of mercury to other materials placed in them.
What Are Dental Fillings Made of Today?
Dentistry, like all forms of medicine, is constantly evolving to allow healthcare providers the ability to offer better solutions to our patients. Today, multiple types of materials are used to create dental fillings, depending on the needs of the patient. The most common filling materials are:
While mercury still makes up around 50 percent of the compound that also includes silver, tin, and copper, more care is taken to combine it with other metals that create a safer, more stable compound. More recent studies show them to be safe, and the FDA considers them safe for adults and children over the age of six.
Advantages: Affordable, highly durable
Drawbacks: Fillings are highly noticeable, some patients (approximately 1 percent) may be sensitive to metal.
These are tooth-colored fillings that are made from a ceramic compound to restore the look of patients’ teeth. Because the material is highly flexible, less drilling is needed to place the filling in the cavity.
Advantages: Invisible, easy to place
Drawbacks: May need replacement after several years
While these aren’t placed often, some dentists do still use gold alloy fillings for inlays and crowns.
Advantages: Highly durable, doesn’t wear away
Disadvantages: Expensive, requires two dental visits
Ceramic or Porcelain
Ceramic or porcelain is often used for crowns and veneers, but is also used for inlay or onlay fillings to provide an attractive look that will maintain an attractive smile.
Advantages: Virtually invisible, resistant to stains or wear
Disadvantages: Brittle and more prone to breaking than composite resin, more expensive than composite resin.
Contact Our Raleigh Family Dentist for Quality Fillings
Our Raleigh family dentist office offers different materials for fillings, and we will work with you to determine the best option. We often use composite resin because our patients prefer that they can be matched closely with your teeth, making them almost invisible. To learn more about our dental fillings or schedule an appointment, use the form below or call us at 919-834-4450!