Tooth-Colored Fillings vs. Metal: Which is Better?


Given how important a beautiful smile is to a person’s overall appearance—and how noticeable metal fillings can be in a smile—you might be wondering: Are there any good reasons to choose a metal filling over a tooth-colored one?

Not long ago, the two choices might have had an equal number of pros and cons on each side. But with tooth-colored dental materials becoming stronger and more versatile in recent years, the advantages of metal fillings have been reduced essentially to just two: a lower cost and a quicker procedure. Let’s examine filling options in a little more detail.

Silver-colored dental fillings do have a little silver in them, but they are actually an amalgam (mixture) of several metals, including mercury, tin and copper. Although some have expressed concern about the mercury content of amalgam fillings, extensive testing has shown that it is stable and safe when combined with the other metals. That’s why the American Dental Association and other scientific organizations continue to support the use of dental amalgam. These fillings are relatively inexpensive, very strong and durable. But compared to tooth-colored fillings, they require more reshaping of the tooth to hold them in.

That’s because in order to place a silver filling, your dentist will not only remove the decayed area of the tooth, he or she will also have to cut in a little ledge called an “undercut” that the filling material will sit under. The amalgam is then applied to the tooth in a soft form that will harden quickly. So you’ll need slightly more drilling and more loss of tooth structure with a metal filling.

But this undercut is not necessary for tooth-colored fillings. This type of filling material, a composite of plastic resins and silica fillers, is painted on in several liquid layers and hardened with a special light. The first layer must dry before a new layer is brushed on, leading to a more time-consuming process that is sometimes impractical with young children or in certain areas of the mouth (under the gum, for example). However, this method actually strengthens the tooth as the filling material is “bonded” or joined to the tooth surfaces as opposed to the undercut procedure, which can weaken the tooth and make it more prone to fracturing.

Both types of fillings normally require the administration of local anesthesia (usually a numbing injection), and may cause the tooth to feel sensitive for some time afterwards. Your dentist may have a recommendation as to which filling would be best in your case. But if the filling is in an area that’s visible when you smile, you’ll likely want to opt for a tooth-colored material that will blend in and look natural.

If the cost of a tooth-colored filling is the only issue keeping you from making a choice you’d be happier with, consider joining a dental discount plan. This is an alternative to dental insurance that functions like a warehouse club: Members pay a yearly fee that entitles them to price reductions of 10% to 60% for a wide range of quality dental services in their region. DentalPlans™ offers more than 40 such plans, covering more than 100,000 dentists nationwide. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.


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