A filling can stop the progression of disease. If a cavity is not filled, the decay will continue to spread, affecting more of the tooth.
Amalgams, well known as ‘silver’ fillings, have been successfully used for more than 150 years to restore teeth. Composed of silver, tin, mercury, copper and other metals they are durable, long-lasting, cost effective and easy to place. The recurrence of decay is also less with amalgam fillings. Amalgams have a life expectancy of approximately 14 years.
Are amalgams safe?
Although amalgam fillings release minute amounts of mercury vapour, current scientific consensus supports the position that amalgam does not contribute to illness. The benefits of amalgam in dental restorations are well established.
CDA Position statement
Canadian Dental Association Dental Amalgams FAQ
Often referred to as ‘tooth-coloured’ or ‘white’ fillings, composite fillings are composed of a mixture of acrylic resin and glass-like particles and have many benefits. Composite restorations are relatively strong, durable and can generally be placed in one visit. They can last roughly 10 years and preserve more of the natural tooth. While more expensive than amalgams, they are popular due to their ability to retain the natural appearance of the tooth, particularly in the front teeth.
Although composites continue to advance they may not be suitable for all patients or all situations. Composites are not as durable as amalgams and may have some limitations on teeth where the biting pressure is high (i.e. back teeth) or for individual who clench/grind their teeth. Some individuals may also experience sensitivity in placing composites.
Why does dental plan only cover amalgams?
Dental plan coverage is determined by the plan purchaser (generally an employer) and does not cover individual dental needs or all available treatment options or materials. Some plans may cover a combination of amalgam and composite fillings depending on the affected tooth (i.e. composites may be covered for highly visible front teeth while due to their lifespan and durability only amalgams are covered for others); other plans may be limited to amalgams.
Replacing amalgam fillings
If your filling is in good condition and there is no decay beneath it there is no need to replace it.
There may be circumstances whereby your dentist will provide the option of replacing your filling. This may be the case if:
• The filling is “leaking”. This can occur if the filling becomes worn or if decay develops a around an edge of the filling.
• Additional work is needed on another part of the tooth due to decay or other tooth damage. In such circumstances it often necessary to remove an existing filling and extend it to repair the new problem.
In both of these examples, your dentist will consider a number of factors such as the size and/or position of any new dental restoration and the remaining life span of the already existing filling. Discuss your options with your dentist to make an informed choice for your health.