Skip to main content

What is the Difference Between Amalgam and Composite Fillings?

Certainly, no one wants to hear they have a cavity, but substantial advancements in dental technology have assured cavities can be treated quickly and effectively.  There are two main options for restorative materials to choose from, both very effective but can differ slightly in terms of budget and lifestyle requirements.  Read on to learn more about what those options are and how to choose the right one for you.

What are Fillings

Fillings are needed to repair cavities that occur in the teeth. Cavities are formed when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, builds up on the teeth. Eating or drinking sugary foods allows the bacteria in the plaque to attack tooth enamel and the stickiness of the plaque helps the acids adhere to teeth for a long period of time. As the enamel wears, bacteria can get in and eat away at the tooth. This forms a hole in the tooth, otherwise known as a cavity or tooth decay. In order to prevent the decay from going deeper into the tissue and root, it is necessary to fill up the hole so no more bacteria can get through. 

Before this can happen, the cavity must be thoroughly cleaned to remove any traces of bacteria and/or damaged tissue. This step ensures the bacteria will not be trapped inside the tooth and cause more harm. The filling is then inserted into the cleaned hole where it will protect the affected tooth from further decay or bone loss.

Types of Fillings

As dental technology advances, patients have more choices in their treatment than ever before. When it comes to fillings, there are two main options that have proven to be popular. Both are very good and durable options

Amalgam –Otherwise known as “the silver filling”. Amalgam fillings are actually made from a combination of metals that make it the most effective and popular filling material used in dentistry for the last 150 years. The combination includes silver, mercury, tin and copper. Sometimes amalgam includes small amounts of zinc, indium or palladium.

“Why is mercury in amalgam” has been a question for many years. Mercury is used in amalgam because it helps make the filling material flexible. Since mercury is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment, everyone is exposed to mercury in some form, whether through the air, drinking water, soil or food. So, having some contact with mercury through amalgam isn’t all that much different from other daily exposures. As with most substances, harm caused by mercury in the body is related to the amount ingested. Very low levels of mercury don’t cause any adverse effects. But at higher levels, mercury is known to cause several unfavorable symptoms. With amalgam, minimal amounts of mercury in the form of vapor can be released and absorbed into the body as the filling wears.

Research has concluded that the low level of mercury absorbed from amalgam fillings is not enough to create any toxic effects. In fact, studies have shown the amount of mercury you are exposed to in your daily environment or in the food you eat is more than what you could be exposed to from an amalgam filling.

Composite– Composite fillings are technically “composite resin” fillings. The resin is made from a combination of acrylic and ceramic that can be custom-mixed to match the individual tooth color. 

Factors To Consider

  • Color: Amalgam is noticeably dark, due to its metallic materials, so it can be obvious in the mouth when you are smiling or talking. Composite resin, on the other hand, can be matched specifically to your tooth color so it won’t be seen when you smile. 
  • Affordability: Both Amalgam and Composite fillings are usually covered by insurance but the covered percentages may differ. Composite can be more expensive to create due to a longer treatment time. 
  • Durability: Amalgam is extremely durable and long-lasting. If amalgam fillings are properly cared for, they could last up to fifteen years. Composite, while still durable, is not as hardy as amalgam and may have a lifespan of 7-10 years. The permanence of either option is dependent on how you care for it. Good oral hygiene and diet are important factors that contribute to the longevity of both materials

Which Should I Choose?

When considering which type of filling to choose, the important question to consider is where the filling will be located. Amalgam fillings may be best to use in the back of the mouth where they won’t be as easily noticeable. However, if your cavity is in one of your front teeth, you might opt for a composite filling, which won’t be visible when you smile. 

Schedule a visit with one of our dentists at Lindner Dental to discuss your options in more detail. We have the latest technology to help you determine what is right for you or your child!