Until recently, dentists filled and sealed cavities exclusively using (a silver and mercury) amalgam. Unfortunately, these fillings (or restorations) could weaken teeth because too frequently a large amount of the original tooth that has to be removed. Modern dentistry has increasingly turned to composite fillings as a strong, safe and more natural looking alternative. Composite fillings utilize a soft white plastic based substance that hardens into a strong attractive material.
Pros and Cons of Composite Fillings
The major advantage of these fillings is that they come in a range of shades that closely match the color of an individual's tooth. Due to the increased strength of modern composite material, they can now also be used in the back teeth. Unfortunately, composite fillings are 1 1/2 to 2 times more expensive than traditional restorations. Dental insurance typically covers the cost of fillings up to the price of the silver/mercury fillings.
The Filling Procedures
During your initial visit to the dentist, he or she begins by anesthetizing the tooth and removing any remaining decay. Once the tooth has been prepared, the dentist places the composite into the tooth where it binds to the original surface. The process is typically performed in several layers wherein each layer is cured or hardened with the use of a special light. Restorations (fillings) for the back teeth are referred to as a direct composite procedure. Indirect restorations need to be custom-made at an off-site dental lab and two visits to the dentist are required. Once the dental office receives the custom inlays, the patient returns to the dentist's office, where the inlays will be bonded into place. Individual inlays are not only composite materials; they are often made of porcelain.
After the Fillings Have Been Placed
Patients may have increased sensitivity in the tooth for several weeks following the procedure. Composite fillings are porous. Over time, they may become stained from coffee, tea, tobacco, etc. Many dentists place a clear covering over the filling to avoid any future staining. Composite fillings typically last three to twelve years, depending on the location of the restoration, an individual's occlusion (or bite), and one's home care. Indirect porcelain inlays do not stain as easily as direct composites.