For those of us with dental work who like to talk, laugh or smile, a silver tooth filling shows the world where we could have taken better care of our teeth. But what if there was a way to hide the fact that you even had any cavities in the first place?
Composite resin is a filling material designed for aesthetic dental restorations. Formulated to resemble the color of your natural tooth, composite resin is often used for filling dental cavities or for dental bonding front teeth.
Composite resin consists of glass or quartz filler added to a resin medium, which produces a tooth-colored filling. The invention of composite resin offers a substitute to the amalgam dental fillings we've grown so accustomed to. This plastic and glass mixture contains no metal and can be shaped to resemble a real tooth. Onlookers usually can't tell that a tooth has even been filled!
We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
For years, amalgam was the only option for filling teeth. Those who wanted natural-looking restorations had to opt for more expensive cosmetic treatments, such as a dental crown. Composite resin enables dentists to cosmetically treat dental cavities without using invasive procedures.
Although composite resin has only recently gained popularity, white fillings were originally introduced in the 60s. At that time, composite consisted of a different material, and was not sturdy enough to be used on back teeth.
The first composite fillings tended to wear down easily, subjecting the tooth to even more tooth decay or breakage. It has taken years of development for scientists to find the right mixture of composite resin and justify it as a safe, effective filling material.
How It Works
Composite fillings can be placed by a general or cosmetic dentist. The procedure for placing a composite resin dental filling is a bit more complicated than it is for an amalgam filling:
- The dentist isolates the tooth from saliva to keep it dry.
- A drill or air abrasion is used to remove the infected part of the tooth.
- The composite resin is placed in layers over the opening.
- A special light is used to harden each layer of composite resin material.
- After the tooth is filled, the composite resin is shaped to resemble a real tooth.
Placing composite resin restorations requires more time in the dental chair and more work on the dentist's part, but most patients are incredibly pleased with the results!
Putting It to the Test
As you might imagine, patients often choose composite resin for aesthetic purposes. But dentists have other reasons to promote composite resin as a dental filling material. While amalgam fillings require a larger section of the tooth to be removed, dentists only need to drill away the diseased part of the tooth to place composite resin. This preserves the existing tooth structure for years to come.
Amalgam tends to expand and contract with heat, causing teeth to crack. Composite is actually bonded to the tooth, however, and can withstand the pressure from chewing rather well. Composite resin also supports the tooth structure, insulates it from extreme temperatures, and remains sturdy when used for small to medium dental fillings.
There's been a lot of discussion about whether composite resin is safer than amalgam. Throughout its 150 year history, there's been no evidence linking amalgam to the diseases some say it causes. Amalgam is a stable filling material deemed safe by many public health organizations -- it is much more likely you'll obtain mercury from fish or polluted air than from it leaking out of silver dental fillings. But if you do prefer mercury-free restorations, speak with your dentist about your concerns.
For Your Consideration
Before you start replacing all of the silver in your mouth with composite resin dental fillings, keep in mind that it may not be for everyone. Here's what you need to know about composite resin before you have any work done:
- Not as durable or long-lasting as amalgam
- Will need to be replaced every 7-10 years
- May not be suitable for larger dental fillings
- Procedure is more detailed and costly than amalgam restorations
- Tooth-colored fillings are vulnerable to staining
A great dentist can help you decide whether composite resin fillings are right for you. Composite resin does not only restore your teeth but can give you a natural-looking alternative to amalgam. And after all those years of having no other choices, don't you deserve a beautiful smile?