Dental fillings can repair teeth that have been compromised by mild to moderate tooth decay. For decades, amalgam has been used to strengthen and protect weakened teeth. Amalgam restorations are durable and long lasting, and they provide an affordable alternative to composite resin fillings. With proper care, amalgam fillings can last up to 15 years.
What Are Cavities?
Each tooth is made up of several layers: the enamel, dentin, and inner pulp chamber. Although enamel is the hardest tissue in the body, it is not invincible. Acid from plaque can erode enamel, and over time, small holes can develop. These are otherwise known as cavities.
Amalgam restorations are durable and long lasting, and they provide an affordable alternative to composite resin fillings.
Plaque is a combination of debris from food, bacteria, and saliva. Sugary foods and carbohydrates can encourage the growth of bacteria and cause more plaque to develop. As a result, it is important to maintain a healthy diet and a diligent oral hygiene regimen to reduce your risk of developing decay.
Types of Cavities
Who Can Develop Cavities?
Chances are high that you will need a dental filling at least once in your lifetime. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has estimated that 92 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have at least one cavity. Over time, wear and tear can result in chips or cracks in the teeth, which can weaken their structural integrity and harbor bacteria. However, cavities can also affect children. Primary teeth are more susceptible to decay, as the enamel is softer than that of adult teeth.
Early stages of tooth decay are difficult to detect with the unaided eye. However, x-rays enable your dentist to identify even the smallest areas of concern. Signs of more advanced tooth decay include:
- Ongoing dental sensitivity or pain
- Discomfort when consuming hot or cold items
- Visible holes on the surface of teeth
- Areas of discoloration
Treating cavities in a timely fashion can protect you from more serious oral health issues, such as tooth loss.
Amalgam Fillings: The Basics
Amalgam fillings have been around for over a century. They are comprised of a mixture of silver, tin, copper, and mercury. This metal alloy is highly durable and can withstand the constant bite force of chewing. Amalgam fillings are more affordable than composite resin material and typically offer longer-lasting results. However, it is important to note that metal fillings are highly visible. As a result, dentists typically use amalgam on molars.
Keep in mind that fillings are appropriate in cases of mild to moderate dental decay. More extensive tooth decay may require an inlay or onlay or a dental crown. If decay has penetrated to the innermost portion of the tooth, you may require root canal therapy to restore the remaining structure.
The Treatment Process
During the examination, your dentist can use special dental tools to locate soft spots in the enamel. Your dentist may also request x-rays to identify early stages of decay. These images can also reveal the severity and extent of any decay that is present.
Typically, the procedure can be performed on the same day as a consultation. The doctor can begin by administering a local anesthetic to numb the teeth and surrounding tissues. The compromised tissue will then be removed and the tooth will be carefully reshaped to accommodate the amalgam material. The dentist can then fill the cavity with amalgam. Once complete, you may be asked to bite down to ensure the material does not disrupt your occlusion. If necessary, your dentist can trim and re-contour the material.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Amalgam
Affordability and longevity are perhaps two of the greatest advantages of amalgam fillings. In addition, they are easy to maintain and can withstand the constant pressure of biting and chewing. While amalgam fillings offer many great benefits, there are a few risks and disadvantages to consider. Amalgam:
- Does not blend with natural enamel
- Can cause the tooth to appear darker or gray
- Does not bond as tightly to the tooth as composite resin
- Can expand and contract under drastic temperature changes
- Requires more tooth preparation and a larger amount of enamel removal
- Can cause health concerns for patients with metal allergies
If you have concerns about amalgam material, you may wish to speak with your dentist about tooth-colored fillings.