Do you have a metal mouth? Tinsel teeth? Magnet mouth? Tin grin? There is something you can do about it.
No, we’re not talking about braces. ’re talking about “silver” fillings—or as we professionals like to call them, amalgams.
But did you know that gold was the original tooth filling material for thousands of years because it is so durable and stable? This metal can sit at the bottom of the ocean for centuries and come out looking the same as it did when it went under, which made it pretty ideal for the moist, humid environment that exists in your mouth. In fact, gold crowns were once viewed as status symbols due to their cost.
But if you are a little long in the tooth (pun intended!), you might have old “silver” fillings or metal crowns glinting in your mouth, which were the materials of choice in days not long gone.
Yet these restorative dental procedures are no longer considered best practices by modern dentists. (And let’s be honest, no one who has these fillings appreciates the unflattering dark grey color of a “silver” filling or the gold-plating of their oral imperfections. They just want a white, healthy-looking smile.)
So, should you replace your old “silver” fillings or your gold crowns with modern, tooth-colored alternatives? There are a few factors to consider.
Some fun facts about “silver” fillings
Although your fillings may look silver, they aren’t! Their proper name is amalgam fillings because they are actually an alloy of several metals:
- Amalgam fillings are made of 50 percent mercury mixed with silver, tin, and copper.
- Similar versions of amalgam alloys have been used as dental fillings for over 150 years.
- Millions of people around the world have amalgam fillings in their mouths.
- Advantages of amalgam fillings? They last several years longer than composite resin (we’ll get to those later) and the filling procedure is a bit faster than with composites.
Wait, did you say mercury? As in, really-bad-for-your-health mercury?
Yes, sorry to tell you that amalgam fillings DO contain mercury. And whether to use them or not in fillings has been a hugely controversial issue for as long as they’ve been around. (Google “amalgam wars,” if you don’t believe me. Dentist wars! Crazy, huh?!)
What is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s position on amalgam fillings?
The FDA has concluded that the amount of mercury vapors released by amalgam fillings is safe for adults and children above the age of six.
There is very little data regarding health outcomes of unborn children whose mothers have these fillings. The amount of mercury in the breast milk of mothers who have amalgam fillings is low and considered safe by the FDA. However, since mercury can cross the placenta, pregnant women are advised not to get them.
Should you get your amalgam fillings replaced by newer alternatives?
Amalgams can be unsightly for those of us who are sensitive about our appearance, but should you replace them? Some dentists recommend that you replace these fillings only if there is a problem, because removing a filling can mean you also remove a bit of the healthy tooth. And it could release mercury.
Are they broken? Is there decay under the filling? Then, you should definitely replace them. If you’re unsure, we recommend that you schedule an appointment to discuss your options.
Composite resin: an alternative to amalgam fillings
Most modern dental offices fill their patients’ cavities with composite resin, which is a substance made of glass and plastic. Your dentist will fill the area with layers of the composite, using a special light to harden the resin. Finally, the composite is shaped and polished to match your other teeth.
Advantages and disadvantages of composites:
- Composites do not contain mercury. They are perfectly safe and allergic reactions are rare.
- Composites are much more aesthetically pleasing than amalgams because they are tooth-colored instead of dark gray.
- The fact that the composite chemically bonds with the tooth means the tooth is strengthened. It will not contract or expand with temperature changes as much as with an amalgam.
- In traditional amalgam fillings, significant portions of the tooth need to be removed first prior to filling, so it’s impossible to use these on chipped front teeth. In contrast, the filling procedure with composites does not destroy any healthy material.
- Composite bonding: composite resin can be used to repair teeth that are chipped or worn, and it can be applied to front teeth since it is tooth colored.
- If you are concerned about tea or coffee discoloring your composite, your dentist can apply a clear coating over the material to avoid discoloration.
- Disadvantages? The composite procedure takes a little longer than inserting amalgam fillings. Also, composites are a bit more expensive, but many insurance companies cover most, if not all, of the cost.
And now, let’s get to the gold!
Metal crowns made of gold or alloys are quite strong, but not aesthetically pleasing – and they are pricey. Dentists today use porcelain crowns which can be color matched and shaped so they blend in perfectly.
A crown may be used to improve the shape of the tooth or to fix the alignment of the teeth. After a tooth is reshaped in preparation for a crown, your dentist designs the crown and mills it in his office, or sends it to a lab to be milled.
Extra advantages of porcelain crowns
- Crowns can replace a problem tooth or large, unsightly fillings.
- Crowns can strengthen and protect a weak tooth.
- Crowns can last a lifetime, but sometimes become loose or fall out. Practicing good oral hygiene will help keep them in place.
Sunny Isles Dental—white, bright smiles guaranteed!
At Sunny Isles Dental we want you to be happy with your smile. If you don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror, or you are embarrassed to open your mouth too wide because people might see an antiquated heap of dull metal, maybe you should consider getting your fillings and crowns replaced with newer materials.
Schedule an appointment now and we’ll determine which option will give you the bright white smile you’ve always dreamed of.