5 Types of Dental Fillings & What’s Right for You

Did you know that 96 percent of Canadian adults have had a cavity at some point in their lives? Cavities are overwhelmingly common, and dental fillings are one of the best treatments. But which kind of dental filling is the right choice for you? 

There are five primary types of dental fillings: cast gold, silver, composite, ceramics, and glass ionomer. Read on to learn more about each of these types and discover which one might be right for you. 

Cast Gold Fillings

Gold fillings are one of the older choices for tooth fillings, and for good reason. Part of the reason gold is so valuable is that it doesn’t corrode, which means it won’t rust or break down inside your mouth. Gold fillings can also be very strong and may even last two decades or more before they need attention.

Cast gold fillings require two appointments to get fitted – one to make the molds and one for the final fitting. During the first appointment, your dentist will take a mold of the tooth you’re getting a filling on, and that mold will be turned into a cast for the gold. The gold amalgam will then get melted and poured into the cast before being fitted into your mouth at your second appointment.

Benefits of Cast Gold

As we mentioned, one of the biggest benefits of cast gold is its durability and strength. Unlike some of the other fillings we’ll mention, cast gold fillings will not corrode in your mouth. This non-reactivity also makes them a good choice for people who may have allergies or sensitive gums.

Gold fillings have a distinctive look, and many dentists prefer to place them in the back of the mouth, where they won’t be easily seen. However, some patients actually prefer the look of gold fillings to the silver amalgam options. If you’re considering this option, keep in mind that fillings are not the same as crowns and will look very different in your mouth.

Drawbacks of Cast Gold

Of course, like any of the fillings on this list, cast gold has its drawbacks, too. Most of all, cast gold is the most expensive option when it comes to dental fillings. Silver amalgam fillings cost about $150 each, although you could pay up to $300; cast gold fillings can cost more than ten times as much as that. 

If you have silver amalgam fillings in place and you get a cast gold filling, you might experience a sharp pain called galvanic shock. If you want a filling that looks natural, cast gold fillings are not the right choice for you. And as we mentioned, you’ll need to go to your dentist at least twice for gold fillings – other filling types can be done in one visit.

Silver Fillings

Silver fillings are another popular option, especially for patients who are working on a budget. Of course, silver fillings aren’t made of pure silver; instead, they’re an amalgam of tin, copper, mercury, and silver. These have fallen out of favor with dentists in recent years for reasons we’ll discuss more in a moment.

Silver amalgam fillings are the least expensive of all the types we’ll discuss here, which is part of what’s kept them popular. They can last up to fifteen years with proper care, and your dentist may be able to install them in just one visit. And while these fillings do contain mercury, doctors have determined that the amounts are small enough that they don’t pose a threat to patients. 

Benefits of Silver 

The biggest benefit of silver amalgam fillings is that they can be a tremendously affordable option for patients who are on a budget. Although they have several other drawbacks, silver amalgam fillings can allow patients without insurance to get the dental care they need. And these fillings are very strong and can stand up to chewing forces without cracking.

Silver amalgam fillings can also outlast some of the other materials, including composite fillings. They can also be a good choice for filling baby teeth, which will fall out within a few years anyway and so may not be worth the extra expense of composite or ceramic fillings.

Drawbacks of Silver 

One of the biggest drawbacks of silver amalgam fillings is that they don’t look very good. For one thing, your tooth will have a large dark-coloured mass in the middle of it that will get darker with time. And, unfortunately, silver amalgam can start to discolour your tooth material over time, too, making your whole tooth look grey.

Worse yet, silver amalgam may expand or contract with exposure to extreme heat and cold from food. This can leave gaps around the filling or may even crack your tooth and cause more damage. And since amalgam fillings are so large, your dentist may have to remove healthy tooth structure in order to fit the filling in. 

Tooth-Coloured Composites

Composite tooth fillings are a more modern addition to the filling world that has become popular among dentists and patients. These fillings are made of a mixture of acrylic resin and powdered glass. But their biggest draw is that they can be coloured to match tooth material and look much more natural than their metal cousins. 

Your dentist can put in a composite filling in one office visit thanks to the resin component of this material. They’ll knead the soft, pliable material into shape and place it in the appropriate place in your mouth, shaping it as needed. Then they’ll use a bright light to cure the resin, causing the filling to harden in place.

Benefits of Composites

The number-one benefit of composite fillings is that they can blend in with your teeth, becoming virtually invisible. This makes them a great choice for front teeth that may need fillings, since the discolouration of metal fillings may make patients feel insecure. Composite fillings also bond to the tooth on a micro-mechanical level, providing extra structural support to your tooth.

Composite fillings are more versatile than some of the other materials we’ve discussed. In addition to filling in areas of tooth decay, this material can be used to repair chipped, broken, or worn teeth. And in many cases, your dentist may be able to avoid removing healthy tooth material with composite fillings. 

Drawbacks of Composites

While composite fillings outperform their metal cousins in many respects, they are not perfect. For one thing, composites aren’t as sturdy as metal fillings and tend to break down more under chewing force. This may mean they aren’t a good choice for people who grind their teeth at night.

Composite fillings are also more expensive than amalgam fillings, costing up to $300 per filling. They may take a little longer to put in than amalgam fillings, since they have to cure during the office visit. And, depending on where they’re used, composite filling materials can chip off of the tooth.

Ceramics

Ceramic tooth fillings combine the best of both gold and composite tooth fillings. These fillings are most often made of porcelain, and they’re incredibly durable. They usually last fifteen years or more and can be made to match the colour of your natural teeth, just like their composite cousins.

Ceramic fillings are usually made using molds, much like cast gold fillings are. During your first office visit, your dentist will remove any extra tooth material as needed and then take a cast of the area to be filled. That cast will be turned into a mold that will be poured with ceramic that’s been coloured to match the shade of your natural teeth.

Benefits of Ceramics

One of the biggest benefits of ceramic is that it’s extraordinarily strong and can last for years, if not decades. It can be made to match the colour of your teeth, and thanks to its nature, it may also closely resemble the texture of your natural teeth. And ceramics are stain-resistant, so you can enjoy all the coffee and red wine you want without fear of discolouration.

Ceramics can be a great choice for front teeth since they match the look of your natural teeth. They can work well for people who grind their teeth at night since they’re strong enough to stand up to the wear and tear. And since porcelain is nonreactive, it shouldn’t cause problems for patients with allergies or sensitive gums. 

Drawbacks of Ceramics

Unfortunately, ceramics have many of the same drawbacks as both gold and composite fillings. The biggest drawback of these fillings is the price; ceramic fillings can cost almost as much as gold. If you don’t have insurance, you may not be able to pay the hundreds of dollars it takes to get these fillings.

Ceramics are also more brittle than composite fillings, meaning they can break a little more easily. This means your dentist may need to use a larger filling to make it sturdier. But as we see with amalgam fillings, your dentist may have to carve out more healthy tooth area in order to make space for the filling. 

Glass Ionomer 

We know what you may be thinking – glass fillings seem like a bad recipe for disaster. But glass ionomer fillings use a blend of glass and acrylic that’s not too different from composite fillings. However, they are weaker than composite fillings and usually break down after just a few years.

Glass ionomer fillings are most popular for children who are going to lose their teeth being filled in a few years anyway. They can also be used for fillings below the gum line, which will not be visible in the mouth. In general, glass ionomer fillings will only last five years or so, even with proper care.

Benefits of Glass Ionomer 

One of the biggest benefits of glass ionomer fillings is that they contain additional compounds that can make children’s teeth healthier. In particular, they release fluoride into the tooth they’re implanted in, helping to make it healthier. This can help to set children who are already struggling with cavities on a better path for lifelong dental health. 

Glass ionomer fillings are also relatively inexpensive, making them a good option for children’s fillings. They don’t contain the mercury that amalgam fillings do, so they’re safe even for young children. And they don’t cause the discolouration or allergic reactions amalgam fillings can. 

Drawbacks of Glass Ionomer

The biggest drawback of glass ionomer fillings is that they break down much quicker than the other types of fillings we’ve discussed here. Although doctors are working on new compounds that last longer, these fillings still only have a lifespan of five years or so. This makes them unsuitable for adults or children who have permanent teeth in need of a filling.

Glass ionomer also doesn’t look as natural as composite fillings, which can be a problem depending on where they’re located in the mouth. Dentists will still have to do some amount of drilling on the tooth to prepare it for a glass ionomer filling. This can be frightening to young children if the process isn’t managed appropriately.

Learn More About the Types of Dental Fillings

Dental fillings are something almost every Canadian will have to get at some point in their lives. Which type of dental filling is right for you will depend on your budget, your priorities, and the area your filling is in. It’s best to talk to your dentist about which filling will be the best fit for your needs.

If you’d like to learn more about the types of dental fillings, check out the rest of our site at The Dental Team. We are committed to excellence with compassionate care for our clients. Find a location near you today and start getting the quality dental care you can trust.

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