Most people at some point in their lives will need a filling. Fillings are used to restore the structure of teeth after they have been compromised by decay. If decay is left untreated, it erodes away at the tooth, creating holes and cracks. If the decay progresses too far, the tooth may often need root canal treatment or may need to be completely removed. If caught soon enough, filling the hole with either a mercury or composite filling can save the tooth.
The procedure is rather simple and it can be completed in one visit. Firstly, a local anaesthetic is used to numb the affected areas and the dentist will then remove the remaining decay. After the tooth has had all the decay removed, the dentist then fills the gap with the filling. This ensures that the tooth remains strong and can still function normally.
So, if the dentist tells you that you need a filling at your next check up, what type of filling should you opt for?
Mercury fillings, or amalgam, have been around forever, at least since the 19th century. The special combination of silver, tin, alloy, copper and mercury has always been legendary for its toughness and durability. In fact, this combination of metals has been mentioned in ancient texts dating back to the 1st century.
However, people started to realise that Mercury was a toxic substance, and even after decades of research, no one has been able to devise an element that is able to make the rest of the metals bond together as strongly as mercury does.
In truth, the amount of mercury in amalgam fillings is so minuscule that probably poses little danger to human health. The problem with mercury fillings is that they are very unsightly. When the mix settles, it turns into a hard, silver substance. Older people are more likely to have these fillings; you might have noticed a silvery gleam, usually on their back teeth.
Composite fillings were invented in the 1970s and became a popular option due to the fact that they are the same colour as teeth. Composite fillings are comprised of a mixture of acrylic plastics, quartz fillers and colourants.
Despite the aesthetic improvements in these fillings, they initially weren’t as strong as their mercury counterparts, and despite the fact that they contained no toxic elements, health insurance companies would only provide insurance for mercury fillings.
For some time, composite fillings were only used on front teeth, while mercury fillings were used for the back teeth, which are subject to a lot more wear and tear due to the role they play in chewing. During the past decade, composite fillings have come a long way and they are now strong enough to be used on back teeth. In fact, it’s very rare for any dentists to use mercury fillings these days.
The Verdict on Mercury Fillings and Composite Fillings
There are claims that mercury fillings can be toxic and lead to health problems but there’s no denying that they are far less appealing to the eye than composite fillings.
The other benefit of composite fillings is that they don’t require as much of the tooth to be taken away and unlike mercury fillings, the nature of the composite resin actually holds the tooth together. In a way, composite fillings perform two roles – they fill the gap where the decay was, and they assist in holding the remaining tooth together whilst mercury fillings only fill the gap and due to the way the tooth is drilled to hold the mercury filling in place it may actually contribute to weaknesses and further tooth fractures. Composite fillings are also far less sensitive to hot and cold than amalgam or mercury fillings.
So, if you dentist suggests a mercury filling, it’s worth questioning them as to why composite fillings wouldn’t be more suitable. Or better yet, visit Dr George Olstein’s clinic – we only use composite fillings. Contact us today to make an appointment.