Are Composite Fillings Right for You?

Are Composite Fillings Right for You?

Hearing your dentist tell you that you have a cavity is never good news! Although getting a filling is a painless procedure — assuming your dentist is skilled and conscientious — the fact that dental caries (decay) has taken hold in a tooth can be unsettling, and lead you to question your oral hygiene routine.

However, the immediate question becomes what type of filling should be used. One of the options your dentist may suggest is a composite filling. If you (hopefully) don’t have much experience with fillings, you may have questions about the characteristics of this type of filling, and why it’s being recommended.

What are Composite Fillings?

A composite filling is a mixture of plastic (acrylic) resin that’s reinforced with a powdered glass filler. It’s typically used to fill cavities on the front of an upper or lower tooth, and can be matched to the shade of the tooth to provide an aesthetically pleasing result. As Healthline mentions, dentists also sometimes use this composite resin material to repair or restore parts of broken or chipped teeth.

It also is used for cosmetic dentistry, with composite bonding being a technique where composite material is shaped and molded directly on the teeth to create a whiter, more even smile. This is an economical “smile makeover” that may be the best solution for those whose tooth enamel is too thin for veneers, as it does not require removing any enamel. Our blog post — “Is Composite Bonding Right for You?” — covers this topic in detail.

But first, a few words about amalgam fillings. Commonly but inaccurately called “silver” fillings, many people have safety concerns about them due to their mercury content. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), “Studies on people with dental amalgam do not show conclusive evidence that dental amalgam causes harmful health effects in the general population.” If you want a composite filling because you’re apprehensive about receiving an amalgam filling, discuss your concern with your dentist.

For additional information on other alternatives to amalgam fillings, our blog post — “Everything You Need to Know About Dental Fillings” — provides a comprehensive overview of the many types of materials used for fillings.

Advantages of Composite Fillings

As mentioned, the color of a composite filling blends seamlessly with the tooth, allowing an attractive smile. Golden State Dentistry provides the following other advantages:

Requires less removal of healthy tooth structure — Composite fillings require less removal of healthy tooth structure. Amalgam fillings often require more extensive drilling to create a space for the filling material, which can weaken the tooth and increase the risk of fractures. Composite fillings are bonded directly to the tooth with minimal removal of healthy enamel, preserving more of the natural tooth structure.

Creates a stronger bond to the tooth — Because it bonds directly to the tooth, a composite filling creates a stronger bond compared to amalgam fillings, which are held in place by the shape of the cavity. The direct bonding of composite fillings helps to strengthen the tooth and reduce the risk of further damage or fractures.

Less likely to cause tooth sensitivity — Additionally, composite fillings are less likely to cause tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures. Due to their metal composition, amalgam fillings can conduct heat and cold, leading to discomfort for some people. Composite fillings, being made of resin, do not have this issue and provide a more comfortable experience.

Limitations of Composite Fillings

Although composite fillings offer many advantages in terms of aesthetics, tooth integrity and comfort, they’re not ideal for every situation. Composite fillings can be used on back teeth if the tooth has small to moderate amounts of decay, but are not typically recommended for the chewing surfaces of molars because they are subject to heavy use.

Moreover, as Healthline points out, they tend to have a relatively short lifespan, lasting seven to 10 years — as opposed to amalgam, which lasts an average of 10 to 15 years. This may not be an issue for a small filling on the front of a tooth, but does not favor the long-term durability of a larger filling made in the top of a tooth.

Keep in mind that although composite fillings are used to maintain or restore an even, white smile, they are susceptible to staining from the same foods and beverages that can stain natural enamel over time. For this reason, be sure to brush immediately after eating or drinking anything that’s known to cause staining. Tooth whitening products only work for natural enamel, so take extra care to prevent stains from discoloring your composite fillings or bonding. Stains can be removed by your dentist during your regular twice-yearly examination and cleaning, but contentious care will help extend the life of the composite material.  

The Take-Home Message

Composite fillings provide an effective, aesthetically pleasing treatment for tooth decay that occurs on the front surface of teeth, and can also be used for small-to-midsize restorations in areas of your mouth that perform moderate chewing. For larger restorations, your dentist may recommend an amalgam filling, which better stands up to the chewing work of back molars. If you have health concerns about amalgam fillings, discuss them with your dentist to see if there is an alternative material that can be effectively used.

NK Family Dental is proud to offer strong, secure fillings that work to restore the function of a tooth and add to its overall strength. It is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.

Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.

We serve the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park with the dedication that’s earned us the reputation as the Best Dentist in Chicago!

We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.

Schedule your visit through ZocDoc, or contact us directly. We look forward to treating you soon!


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