Amalgam Versus White Dental Fillings

Where a choice is available, which one should you choose to have?

There was a time, not so long ago, when anyone that required a regular filling of a tooth would be given an amalgam filling. Although fillings made from silver and tin were believed to have been used in the Tang Dynasty in China, it wasn’t until the early 1800s when amalgam as we currently know it was first used to fill a patient’s tooth.

For around two hundred years then, amalgam has served us well. There is a good reason for this. In addition to being the only filling material available at the time, it has excellent properties including strength and durability.

Why then, are patients increasingly moving away from the traditional amalgam filling? There are many reasons, with aesthetic concerns being one of the major ones, but it is not the only one as we will now see.

Mercury

One concern sometimes expressed by our Eltham patients is that amalgam contains mercury compounds. This is a highly toxic substance that can, in cases of high exposure, cause a number of health issues including memory loss, irritability and even kidney problems. However, on this account, patients shouldn’t be too concerned as UK dental regulators have deemed the use of mercury to be safe when used in amalgam fillings. There are concerns though about the mercury from waste materials ending up in our waterways and it is quite possible that amalgam will be entirely phased out in the not too distant future.

Sensitivity

If you already have an amalgam filling and have accidentally touched it with a metal fork or similar, you may have felt a shock like an electric current running through the tooth. While this is harmless, it is certainly an unpleasant feeling and is known as a ‘galvanic reaction’. Some people also claim to receive radio signals through amalgam fillings though there is some doubt about this and even if true, it is very rare indeed.

Shrinkage

Amalgam fillings are made from a combination of mercury, silver, tin and copper. As we know, metals expand and contract with heat. This can eventually lead to small gaps appearing around the filling. Although these tiny spaces are invisible to the naked eye, they are large enough for food debris and bacteria to enter. After a filling has been placed for a long time, it is not unusual for further decay to appear around the edges, requiring further restoration of the tooth. This does not occur when white tooth fillings are used and their use will help to protect the tooth from decay occurring in this manner.

And of course ... aesthetics

And now we come back to the most common reason why people choose to have white dental fillings at AR Smiles. Amalgam is a strong material but it is very dark in colour. This makes it aesthetically unsuitable for use in the more visible front teeth but also causes visual problems when used in rear teeth too. When we laugh or yawn, these suddenly become visible to those around us. For this reason, white fillings are being used much more frequently.

How are white fillings placed?

There is little difference in the way that white fillings are placed. Initially, any decay needs to be removed. One of the biggest differences though is that for amalgam fillings to be placed, the tooth has to be shaped in order to keep the filling in place. This requires the removal of more of the natural tooth than is the case with white fillings as they bond well with the rest of the tooth and do not need to be held in place in the same way. We always try to retain as much of a healthy natural tooth as possible and the use of white fillings helps our Eltham dental team to do this.

What about strength?

Having aesthetically pleasing fillings is one thing, but strength is another factor that needs to be considered too. Amalgam is undoubtedly strong and for some time, white fillings couldn’t be used in larger fillings or where a lot of stress would be put on the tooth. Advances have been made over the years though and white fillings almost match the strength of amalgam now.

Where, for example, a large filling is needed on a rear tooth that would come under a lot of stress when eating, we may, in some cases, recommend an inlay or onlay, rather than a white filling to ensure both strength and aesthetics. This is not always the case though and will be assessed following an examination of the tooth in question.

If you require a filling, there is no longer a need to spoil the appearance of your smile with a dark coloured dental filling. White fillings are available at AR Smiles and are adjustable to match the shade of your own natural teeth, rendering the filling almost invisible.  

If you would like to know more about our filling options, or would like to book an appointment with us, you can do so by calling our friendly reception team on 020 8856 7759.

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Site last updated December 2023
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