I need a filling - what types are there?

There are a number of different fillings, including:

  • Amalgam (silver coloured).
  • Composite fillings (tooth coloured).
  • Glass ionomer (tooth coloured).
  • Gold inlays (gold coloured).
  • Porcelain inlays (tooth coloured).

types of fillings

Amalgam fillings

What are amalgam fillings?

Amalgam fillings are silver coloured although they turn black over time. They are made by combining mercury and a silver alloy (50% mercury, 35% silver, and 15% tin, copper and other metals). Amalgam is long lasting and hard wearing and has been used in fillings for at least 150 years. It is economical to use and it is not unusual for an amalgam filling to last 15 to 20 years.

This kind of filling is usually used on the back 'chewing' teeth. Before the filling can be placed, the dentist must prepare the area by removing all the decay and shaping the cavity to hold the filling in place.

Are there any risks from amalgam fillings?

The mercury in dental amalgam is not poisonous once it is combined with the other materials in the filling. Its chemical nature changes so that it is harmless.

Research into the safety of dental amalgam has been carried out for over 100 years. So far, no reputable ‘controlled' studies have found a connection between amalgam fillings and any medical problem. All available accepted scientific research supports the continued use of dental amalgam and research continues to be monitored. Its correct use has been shown to be free of any adverse systemic effects, except in a minute proportion of individuals who are allergic to one of the constituents of dental amalgam. This condition, which may happen with any material, has been shown to be exceedingly rare.

At Carton Dental we very rarely use amalgam. Composite fillings are our preferred alternative.

Composite fillings

What are composite fillings?

Composite fillings have always been considered less long-lasting than silver amalgam fillings. But there are now new materials available that are comparable to silver amalgam, and these are proving to be very successful. The life expectancy of a white filling can depend greatly on where it is in your mouth and how heavily your teeth come together when you bite.

Composite fillings are tooth coloured and are made from powdered glass quartz, silica or other ceramic particles added to a resin base. After the tooth is prepared, the filling is bonded onto the area and a light shone onto it to set it. We choose a shade to match your own teeth, although over time staining can happen. This is what we use for the vast majority of our fillings.

Is it worth replacing my amalgam fillings with white ones?

When amalgam fillings are small in comparison to the size of the tooth, they are fine and you would expect them to last a long time. However, when an amalgam filling is large in relation to the size of the tooth it creates stress in the tooth making the tooth more likely to develop cracks and break. In cases like this we would advise to change the amalgam filling to a stress-reduced composite one.

We would judge each tooth on its own individual merits. If the existing filling is below the gum level it may be deemed a safer and wiser option to be left as is.

In our experience it is incredibly rare to replace an amalgam with a white filling and have any problems.

More FAQs

What are glass ionomer fillings?

Glass ionomer fillings form a chemical link with the tooth. They may also release fluoride, and are usually only used on baby teeth and ‘non-biting' surfaces such as around the ‘necks' of the teeth. Little preparation is needed as the filling bonds directly to the tooth. We often use them as a temporary filling material.

What are porcelain inlays?

These are fillings made from porcelain that are bonded into the teeth. Porcelain can be hard wearing and long lasting. It can also be coloured to match your natural tooth.

What are gold inlays?

These can be used in most areas of the mouth. An inlay is small and placed within the biting surface of the tooth. Gold is the most long-lasting and hard-wearing filling material and will last for many years. An advantage of gold is that it does not tarnish and has great strength.

One of the differences between gold and porcelain compared to other filling materials is that the gold filling is made in a laboratory. We would usually take an impression of the prepared cavity and send it to the laboratory for the technician to make the inlay. In the meantime, a temporary filling would be placed in the cavity. After the gold inlay has been made, we would fix it in place with dental cement. This type of filling is more expensive.

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