What are Dental Fillings Made Of?

three teeth showing composite, silver, and gold fillings

Are you wondering what materials go into the dental fillings your dentist uses to treat cavities? You’re not alone – it’s natural to want information about the substances that are being used in and around your mouth. In this post, we’ll talk about common types of fillings and explain exactly what they’re made of – so you can make informed decisions when discussing treatment options with your dentist. Read on to learn more!

What are dental fillings and why are they used?

steps of a dental filling from tooth decay, decay removed, to the filling restoring the tooth

Before getting into what dental fillings are made of, it is important to first understand what dental fillings are and why they are used. Dental fillings are a type of dental procedure commonly used to restore a tooth to its normal shape and function after being damaged due to decay or trauma. They are called “fillings” because they are used to “fill” in the space left behind by the cavity or other damage. In addition to restoring teeth that have been affected by decay or other damage, fillings can also protect weakened teeth from further decline and preserve normal tooth structure. This makes them an invaluable tool for maintaining good oral health.

There are two main types of fillings: direct and indirect. Direct fillings are placed directly into the damaged tooth and can include materials such as composite resin, glass ionomer cement, and silver amalgam. Indirect fillings are created in a dental lab before being placed into the tooth and usually consist of porcelain or gold. There are two types of indirect fillings: inlays and onlays. An inlay is used to restore the chewing surface of a tooth, while an onlay is used when even more of the tooth has been damaged and one or more of its points needs to be restored in addition to the chewing surface. Inlays and onlays are traditionally used in cases where a direct filling is not enough to repair the damage, but a dental crown would be too extensive.

Different Types of Materials Used for Fillings

Now that you know what dental fillings are used for, let’s look at what they are made of. The exact material used to create a dental filling depends on the type, location, and size of the cavity or damage being filled. Here are the different types of materials used for dental fillings:

  • Amalgam filling materials – made from a mixture of metals, including silver, tin, copper, and mercury.
  • Composite resin filling materials – made from a mixture of plastic and glass particles.
  • Glass ionomer filling materials – made from a mixture of glass and acrylic.
  • Gold filling materials – made from a mixture of gold and other metals.
  • Ceramic filling materials – made from porcelain or other ceramic materials.

Amalgam

Amalgam fillings, also known as silver fillings, have been used in dentistry for over 100 years. Amalgam fillings are made by mixing liquid mercury with a powdered alloy of silver, tin, and copper. This mixture starts as a soft putty that can be placed into the cavity and hardened into a solid filling. There have been concerns raised about the safety of dental amalgam. However, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have stated that amalgam fillings are safe for most people.

Here’s a table showing the pros and cons of amalgam fillings:

ProsCons
Highly durable and long-lastingNot tooth-colored and may not be aesthetically pleasing
Less expensive than other types of fillingsMay require more tooth structure to be removed
Can withstand the forces of chewing and bitingMay expand and contract with temperature changes, potentially leading to tooth fractures or sensitivity
Has been used for over 150 years with a proven track record of safety and efficacyContains small amounts of mercury, which has raised safety concerns among some people
Easy to place and requires less time in the dentist’s chair compared to other types of fillingsMay require replacement over time, which can be a potential inconvenience and expense

Composite Resin

Composite resin fillings are made of a mixture of plastic and glass materials. They are tooth-colored and blend in with the natural color of your teeth, making them a popular choice for those who want a more natural-looking filling.

Here’s a table showing the pros and cons of composite fillings:

ProsCons
Tooth-colored and aesthetically pleasingMay not be as durable as amalgam fillings
Can be used to repair small to moderate-sized cavitiesMay require more time in the dentist’s chair compared to other types of fillings
Bonds to the tooth structure, potentially providing additional support to the toothMay not be suitable for larger cavities or areas with heavy chewing forces
Requires less tooth structure to be removed compared to amalgam fillingsMay be more expensive than amalgam fillings
Resistant to temperature changes, reducing the risk of tooth fractures or sensitivityMay not last as long as amalgam fillings and may require replacement over time
Does not contain any metals, making it a good choice for those with metal allergies or sensitivitiesCan be more difficult to place and require more skill on the part of the dentist

Glass Ionomer

Glass ionomer fillings are made of a mixture of acrylic and glass materials. They are tooth-colored and release fluoride, which can help prevent further tooth decay. They are commonly used to treat root cavities or as a cement for inlay fillings.

Here’s a table showing the pros and cons of glass ionomer fillings:

ProsCons
Tooth-colored and aesthetically pleasingNot as closely matched to color as composite resin. 
Can release fluoride, potentially helping to prevent future cavitiesMay not be suitable for larger cavities or areas with heavy chewing forces. Not as durable as composite resin. 
Bonds to the tooth structure, potentially providing additional support to the toothMore expensive than amalgam fillings
Requires less tooth structure to be removed compared to amalgam fillingsMay not last as long as other types of fillings and may require replacement over time. 
Resistant to temperature changes, reducing the risk of tooth fractures or sensitivity. Since it bonds directly to the tooth, there is also a decreased risk of leakage. Can be more difficult to place and require more skill on the part of the dentist. Appointments take longer since it is applied in layers.
Can be used as a base or liner under other types of fillingsMay not be suitable for many  areas

Gold

Gold fillings are made of a mixture of gold, copper, and other metals. They are extremely durable and are one of the longest-lasting filling materials.

Here’s a table showing the pros and cons of gold fillings:

ProsCons
Highly durable and long-lastingNot tooth-colored and may not be aesthetically pleasing
Can withstand the forces of chewing and bitingMay be more expensive than other types of fillings
Biocompatible and generally well-tolerated by the bodyMay require more tooth structure to be removed
Does not corrode or tarnish over timeMay require more time in the dentist’s chair compared to other types of fillings
Provides a tight seal, potentially reducing the risk of future cavitiesMay not be suitable for areas with high moisture or saliva levels
Can be customized to fit the exact shape of the cavityCan be more difficult to place and require more skill on the part of the dentist
Rarely requires replacement, potentially saving money in the long runMay not be suitable for those with silver amalgam fillings, since this can cause something known as “galvanic shock”.

Ceramic

Ceramic fillings are made of porcelain or other ceramics. They are highly durable and are tooth-colored, making them a popular choice for those who want a more natural-looking filling. Ceramic is often used for indirect fillings such as inlays or onlays.

Here’s a table showing the pros and cons of ceramic fillings:

ProsCons
Tooth-colored and aesthetically pleasingMay be more expensive than other types of fillings
Can be customized to match the exact color and shape of your teethMay require more time in the dentist’s chair compared to other types of fillings
Resistant to temperature changes, reducing the risk of tooth fractures or sensitivity. Also resistant to staining. May not be suitable for larger cavities or areas with heavy chewing forces
Biocompatible and generally well-tolerated by the bodyCan be more difficult to place and require more skill on the part of the dentist
Does not contain any metals, making it a good choice for those with metal allergies or sensitivitiesMay not last as long as metal  fillings and may require replacement over time

What to Expect During the Filling Procedure

When having a dental filling placed, your expectations will depend on whether you are having a direct or indirect filling placed. Direct fillings, also known as composite or amalgam fillings, are placed directly into a prepared cavity in one appointment. The dentist first numbs the area with a local anesthetic, removes the decayed or damaged tooth structure, and then places the filling material directly into the cavity. The filling is then shaped and polished to match the contour of the tooth.

Indirect fillings, also known as inlays or onlays, are created in a dental laboratory and then bonded to the tooth in a separate appointment. The dentist first prepares the tooth by removing the decayed or damaged tooth structure and takes an impression of the tooth. The impression is then sent to the dental laboratory, where the filling is fabricated from materials such as ceramic, gold, or composite resin. In the meantime, you will have a temporary filling placed. The permanent filling is then cemented onto the tooth in a separate appointment, and any final adjustments are made to ensure a proper fit.

How to Care for Your New Filling

Proper care and maintenance of dental fillings are essential for their longevity and effectiveness in preventing further tooth decay. Here are some tips on how to care for a dental filling:

  • Practice good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day to remove plaque and bacteria that can cause tooth decay and damage to the filling.
  • Avoid hard and sticky foods: Chewing on hard foods such as ice or nuts and sticky foods like caramel or taffy can put extra pressure on the filling and potentially cause it to crack or loosen.
  • Avoid teeth grinding: If you grind your teeth while you sleep, talk to your dentist about getting a mouthguard to protect your teeth and fillings.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and sugar: Alcohol and sugary drinks can cause tooth decay, which can weaken the filling and potentially cause it to fail.
  • Schedule regular dental check-ups: Your dentist will check the filling during your regular dental exams to ensure it is still intact and functioning properly. They may also recommend replacing the filling if it is starting to show signs of wear or damage.
  • Watch for signs of problems: If you experience any pain or sensitivity around the filling, or if you notice any changes in the color or texture of the filling or surrounding tooth, contact your dentist as soon as possible.

By following these tips, you can help extend the life of your dental filling and maintain good oral health.

In Conclusion

Dental fillings are an important part of maintaining good oral health. There are several types of dental fillings to choose from, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to discuss your options with your dentist to determine which type of filling is best for your individual needs. No matter what type of filling you choose, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. With proper care, your dental fillings can last for many years and help you maintain a healthy, beautiful smile.

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