One of the biggest questions in dentistry is the difference between ‘silver colored’ fillings and ‘tooth colored’ fillings. Silver colored fillings are known as dental amalgams. These contain a mixture of silver, tin, mercury & copper. Tooth colored fillings are known as resin composites. These contain a mixture of quartz fillers, plastics & ceramic compounds.
Amalgams have been used by dentists for hundreds of years and have been proven to be a safe and resilient material to fill a dental cavity. Many dentists prefer using amalgam because it is an easier material to work with, it does not get contaminated by the saliva and it has been proven to be a longer lasting filling. Amalgams have a dark silver color and are mostly used to fill posterior (back) teeth. Since posterior teeth take most of the pressure during chewing and grinding, amalgams have a long track record of being strong and durable in that region.
One of the biggest concerns patients have is the safety of amalgam fillings, since amalgams contain mercury. Many patients today want to replace their old amalgam fillings with the new composite fillings. Studies have shown that the amount of mercury released during normal chewing is extremely low. A tuna fish sandwich releases the same amount of mercury as 3-5 amalgam fillings. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not recommend the removal of amalgam fillings because they are harmless. The American Dental Association (ADA) states that dental amalgams are a safe and durable filling material.
Composites have been used by dentists for only 20-25 years. Initially, composites were not heavily used because of the low strength, susceptibility to breakage and possibility of leakage. During the last 10 years, composites have become stronger, more esthetic and more durable. The new types of composites also have less breakage & minimum leakage. Esthetically, composites resemble natural teeth and are mostly used to fill anterior (front) teeth. Due to the huge improvement in the last 10 years, these composites can also be used on posterior (back) teeth.
In today’s dentistry the difference between amalgam and composite fillings is minimal. Both fillings are durable and strong enough to withstand chewing and grinding. However, many people prefer the composite fillings because of the high resemblance to the natural tooth color.