Chances are, you’ve heard of dental filings or needed a tooth filled. But what are dental fillings actually made of and why are they used? Here, a dentist fills us in (pardon the pun!) on what to know about the different types of teeth fillings, composite fillings vs amalgam, and what to consider in terms of both safety and aesthetics.
What is a tooth filling?
A tooth filling, or dental filling, is a treatment to restore the function and shape of a tooth that has been damaged by decay or dental trauma. It literally fills in the area where the decayed tissue has been removed, thus preserving the tooth without any extraction.
To do this, the tooth’s pulp, or decayed tissue, must be removed in a restorative process called a root canal. This is one of the most common procedures done in a dental clinic. The dental filling is then applied to patch the hole where the dental pulp once was.
Types of dental fillings
These days, there are several different types of materials used for dental fillings. We’re talking everything resin and plastic to amalgam fillings, or “silver fillings” – made up of 50 percent mercury and a mix of other metals.
But, while amalgam fillings were once the norm in resotriave dentistry, this is no longer the case, says DR DR THEAN TSIN PIAO of Aesthete Smilestudio. Although this type of dental filling has been used by dentists for over 150 years, amalgam is now considered a passé practice by many, for various reasons.
The problem with amalgam dental fillings
There is scientific evidence that the mercury in amalgam fillings can be harmful to the human body – and the environment. The mercury from amalgam fillings gets released over time, emitting a vapour that’s inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream. This is thought to have damaging effects on the organs, particularly the brain, kidney, liver, lungs and gastrointestinal tract. For this reason, organisations such as the World Health Organization, World Dental Federation and International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) defend the decision to phase out amalgam use in accordance with the Minamata Convention on Mercury – a global agreement that aims to reduce the negative impact of mercury on the environment and human health.
As a member of the IAOMT, Aesthete Smilestudio has been supporting amalgam-free treatment for 20 years now. In fact, Dr Thean says that many of the dental clinic’s patients who became aware of the possible health risks have chosen to come in and get their existing amalgam fillings removed and replaced immediately.
If you have existing amalgam fillings and want to remove them, do make sure to see a dentist who is able to do it safely.
Composite fillings vs amalgam dental fillings & more
Amalgam fillings have been widely used for years, thanks to their lower price point and the durability they offer. However, composite fillings and stronger ceramic fillings can be just as durable, says Dr Thean. Plus, they don’t have the potentially harmful health effects that amalgam fillings do.
Safety and durability aside, composite and ceramic fillings are tooth-coloured. This means they can be closely matched to the colour of existing teeth. This creates a more aesthetically pleasing appearance than the silver metal look.
Another benefit? Composite fillings do not contract to temperature change like amalgam fillings can – hence, avoiding any teeth-cracking issues.
That said, Dr Thean strongly advises patients to choose composite or ceramic fillings, or have their existing amalgam fillings replaced with tooth-coloured ones.
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