Ask anyone over the age of 40 and they’ll tell you that getting a dental filling used to mean adding a gleam of metal to your mouth. Recently, modern dentistry has adopted new high-tech materials that imitate the look of natural teeth, allowing tooth-colored dental fillings to become the norm in many dental practices around the world.
Metal fillings are still a perfectly normal and effective way to repair a damaged tooth. Metal fillings are called amalgam fillings by dentists. This name comes from the fact the material is an alloy of metals (including silver, copper, tin, and zinc). Some amalgams can also contain small amounts of mercury, but the American Dental Association has determined that the amount of mercury is so small that it doesn’t post a health risk to patients (source). However, if you’re concerned and would rather avoid the presence of mercury completely, you should choose composite fillings or gold fillings instead.
Composite resin fillings are what dentists call tooth-colored or “white” fillings. Composite is an artificial tooth-like material that is a blend of hard durable plastics and glass. In this way, composite resin imitates your natural tooth enamel, which is also a glass-like material. The dentist also adds coloring agents to the composite resin to ensure it is indistinguishable from the rest of your tooth.
Gold fillings are a different type of metal fillings. Unlike amalgam, they are made entirely from gold. Also, unlike amalgams and composite fillings, gold fillings are cast from a mold of your tooth then applied, a process that requires two dental visits. Both amalgam and composite fillings are sculpted from a pliable material then hardened in place, allowing the treatment to be completed in one visit.
You should know that some insurance companies consider amalgam fillings to be the standard of care and view composite fillings as a cosmetic option. While amalgam and composite fillings serve the same purpose in terms of repairing your tooth, composite fillings cost a little more. As a result, some dental insurance plans don’t cover or reimburse the cost of composite fillings as much as they cover amalgam fillings.
However, please remember that all decisions about your oral health should be between you and your dentist. How much of the cost of a treatment is covered by your insurance should not be considered with the same weight as a treatment recommendation from a clinician or your own personal preferences. In other words, don’t feel obligated to choose one treatment over another based on what your insurance covers or reimburses you for. If you prefer to have nearly invisible, tooth-colored fillings, you should feel free to choose composite fillings.
If you have any questions about the options we offer for fillings, or any questions about the treatment procedures, please feel free to ask us at any time!