Tooth decay is a very common problem – it’s one of the most common problems people have with their teeth. A consequence of tooth decay is the cavity, a small hole in the teeth caused by the decay. Untreated, the cavity will grow until it jeopardizes the tooth. Typically, dentists will treat the cavity using a dental filling. Most Americans have had at least one filling, and that means most Americans have at least one dental filling. While most of us have dental fillings in common, that doesn’t mean we all have the same fillings – dental fillings come in multiple styles and materials, and they change over time as dental science advances.
One of the more common choices for fillings is composite resin. Composite resins are typically used because they can be matched to the color of the patient’s teeth. They’re typically applied as a soft plastic material, formed in place by the dentist, and hardened with a special light. Resin fillings blend well, making them aesthetically pleasing, but are not as durable as other options.
Metal (or silver) amalgam fillings were very common for many years – easily formed onto the tooth surface, they provide a durable filling that can last for decades. While they’re durable, they’re also very visible – the silver fillings can be seen when the patient opens their mouth, and on visible teeth, they can be visible in the smile line.
Gold fillings, like amalgam fillings, are very durable. While gold fillings offer the same functional benefits of amalgam fillings, they can be more aesthetically pleasing to some patients – however, that visual benefit comes at a cost, as they’re significantly more expensive than metal amalgam.
For severe cavities, dentists may suggest lab created dental inlays – porcelain objects that get fitted into a void created by the dentist when they removed decay. Porcelain fillings and inlays match teeth visibly, are very durable, and can be used on severely damaged teeth, but they’re more expensive and involve more tooth removal than traditional fillings.
If you have a cavity, talk to your dentist about the type of filling they recommend. The material choice may be easy based on the location of the filling (a filling in your front teeth will almost always be composite resin because it blends well), but it’s worth talking to your dentist about both the material options and the cost options. If you have existing metal amalgam fillings, you can even talk to your dentist about whether or not they’re in good shape – in some cases, top rated dentists will want to remove them and replace them with composite resin if they show signs of failure.