Is it Time to Replace Your Silver Fillings?
What are Silver Fillings? Silver fillings, also known as amalgam fillings, are dental restorations that have historically been used to repair cavities. People commonly refer to them as “silver” fillings because of their grey-silver color and shiny, metallic appearance.
Technically, this dental restoration is an amalgam (a mixture or combination) of multiple metals, including silver, tin, copper, and mercury. Each metal provides the material with properties that are beneficial for placement and function in the mouth.
What are the Downsides of Amalgam Fillings?
The most obvious disadvantage of amalgam fillings is their appearance. The shiny silver appearance can be visible during speech and laughter, and most people prefer to have teeth that appear natural, without the visible appearance of fillings.
Another disadvantage of amalgam fillings is their need for a specifically-shaped preparation of the tooth. The amalgam material does not have any type of bond with natural tooth structure, so your dentist must cut away more tooth structure when preparing the tooth for the best chance of retention. If the tooth is prepared incorrectly, the amalgam material will simply fall out. The specific requirements for an amalgam preparation often require a minimal removal of healthy tooth structure, meaning amalgam material is less conservative than other filling material options.
Many people also fear the mercury content in amalgam fillings. Those who have a true mercury allergy may experience side effects from these fillings. However, The American Dental Association affirms that amalgam is a “durable, safe, and effective” restorative material for all.
Signs It’s Time to Replace your Silver Fillings with Composite Material
As the patient, you have the option to choose to replace your silver fillings if you do not like their appearance. Your dentist will also recommend replacement if there is a problem with your existing metal fillings. Some of those problems may include:
You have developed a new cavity under the edge of an existing metal filling.
Your existing filling is no longer sealed, and it allows bacterial contamination inside the tooth.
Your existing filling is cracked.
Your tooth structure surrounding the existing filling is cracked.
What are the Benefits of Composite Fillings?
Composite fillings have been around for decades, and continual research and development has improved both their appearance and functionality. Composite fillings, technically referred to as “composite resin restorations,” carry several advantages over their metal counterparts.
The advantage that patients appreciate most about composite fillings is their natural appearance. Composite resins are available in a wide array of shades so your dentist is able to match the surrounding natural tooth structure as closely as possible. Dentists use composite resin to rebuild decayed or broken front teeth because the appearance is so natural.
Conservation of Natural Tooth Structure
Composite resin forms a micromechanical bond with healthy enamel and its underlying dentin. This bond is the same one used to keep orthodontic brackets on the teeth. It is very strong and capable of withstanding normal chewing forces. Because composite bonds to natural tooth structure, there are no specific requirements for the shape of a preparation or the amount of tooth structure removed. This allows your dentist to be conservative and preserve your natural, healthy tooth structure.
Composite not only bonds to natural tooth structure; it bonds to itself. This means that your dentist can repair a chipped composite filling without removing the entire restoration. This also helps preserve natural tooth structure by preventing excessive drilling on the tooth.
Are Composite Fillings Safe for Kids?
Children will most commonly receive a composite filling because there is decay (a cavity) in a tooth. Composite resin can also be used to repair broken front teeth when children suffer injuries that cause chipping of the enamel.
Statistically, it is likely that a child will need a composite filling at some point during childhood. Dental caries is the most common chronic disease for those between the ages of 6 to 19 years old. In fact, more than half of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years old have had a cavity in at least one of their permanent teeth. Due to the prevalence of cavities in childhood, the need for dental treatment is clear. When possible, your dentist will restore your child’s cavities with composite fillings.
What to Expect during the Replacement Procedure
The replacement of an existing filling should not feel much different to the patient than the initial filling’s placement did. Your dentist will use local anesthetic to make the tooth and the surrounding soft tissues numb so you feel no discomfort during the procedure. Then he or she will remove the existing filling with a high speed dental handpiece.
After your dentist removes the silver filling material and any underlying decay, the composite filling is placed. First, your dentist must keep the tooth isolated and free from any saliva during placement, and after the placement is complete, he or she will rinse your mouth thoroughly to remove any debris or bad taste that remains.
You may also notice the use of a bright blue light during the procedure. This light stimulates the setting reaction (the hardening) of the composite material after your dentist shapes it to the proper contour. Finally, your dentist will smooth and polish the new restoration so that it feels natural in your mouth. If you feel something unusual after the anesthetic wears off, you can return to your dentist for an adjustment.
Replacing Silver Fillings: Your Next Steps
Do you have silver fillings in your mouth? If you are unhappy with their appearance, speak with your dentist to see if they may need to be replaced during your next check-up. Your dentist will also investigate the health of each filling at all of your evaluation appointments and let you know if any of them need replacement.