Dental Fillings: Porcelain vs Amalgams
When a dentist treats a cavity , he removes the decayed portion of the tooth and uses a filling which is a restorative material that re-establishes the function and integrity of the tooth. In addition to cavities, fillings are also used to repair cracked or broken teeth and teeth that have been worn down.
One of the oldest and most widely used restorative materials in oral healthcare is amalgams (silver filings). For more than a century amalgams have been been popular for their low cost, strength, durability and ability to restore a tooth that has been severely damaged or when a cavity is located below the gum line.
Dental amalgam consists of a mixture of elemental mercury (50% of total content), silver, tin, copper and other metals. When mercury is mixed with an alloy powder it develops into a compound that is a pliable, putty-like substance. This compound is pressed into the tooth where it quickly hardens into a very durable filling that can withstand the impact of biting, chewing and grinding of teeth.
The Food and Drug Administration and other organizations of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) continue to investigate the safety of amalgams used in dental restorations (fillings). However no valid scientific evidence has shown that amalgams cause harm to patients with dental restorations except in rare cases of allergic reactions.
Unfortunately the metallic coloring of the amalgams is not always aesthetically pleasing and tooth colored alternatives such as porcelain fillings are emerging with increasingly comparable if not better properties than amalgams.
Thanks to the advances in modern dental materials and techniques, dentists have more ways to create pleasing, natural-looking smiles by using porcelain fillings.
Porcelain Fillings Offer Several Advantages Over Amalgam:
- Aesthetic – porcelain fillings can be tinted to virtually any shade including multiple shades with variations to match your natural tooth color making them well suited for use in front teeth or any visible parts of the tooth. Amalgams (composite) are a comparatively flat material with less brilliance and luster and over time can create a grayish hue to the surrounding tooth structure due to oxidation and corrosion.
- Stability – Unlike amalgam which can expand and contract and slowly weaken the structure of the filled tooth, porcelain fillings will remain the same size and shape preserving the strength of your natural tooth.
- Placement – porcelain fillings require less removal of tooth structure and preserve as much of the natural tooth structure as possible unlike amalgam which may require removal of some healthy tooth to make room for the dental filling.
- Sensitivity– porcelain fillings are less sensitive to hot and cold than teeth restored with amalgam.
- Composition – porcelain fillings do not contain any mercury.
- Longevity – 15 to 30 years.
Several factors influence the performance, durability, longevity and cost of dental restorations. These include:
- Your oral and general health
- The elements used in the restorative filling material
- Where and how the filling is placed
- The chewing load that the tooth will have to bear and
- The length and number of visits to complete the dental restoration.
Before your treatment begins, discuss the options with your dentist.