A: Dental fillings, or restorations, are materials placed in teeth to repair damage caused by tooth decay (caries or cavities). There have been many advances in dental materials and techniques through the decades to provide new, effective ways to restore teeth. Restorations can be broken down into two major categories, direct and indirect. Direct ones typically require a single visit to place a filling directly into a prepared hole.
Materials used for these filings include dental amalgam (silver fillings), composite resins (tooth colored fillings) and glass ionomers. Amalgam fillings have been used for almost a century now and have been studied for safety more than anything else in dentistry. The general consensus from the studies and the ADA continues to be that amalgams are safe, reliable and effective for restorations.
Composite resins have been used for decades in front teeth, but historically was a poor material for back teeth. However, in the past decade, the technology has dramatically improved to the point where a well-placed composite restoration on back teeth will withstand time just as well as a silver filling.
Glass ionomer is similar to composite (tooth colored) except it lacks the strength to resist wear with time, so it is often used on fillings along the gum line and contains fluoride, which decreases the possibility of future decay. Tooth-colored fillings have become more popular due to the cosmetic advantages. However, silver fillings remain more affordable. Ask your dentist about the advantages and disadvantages of each material.
Information provided by Dr. Rob Swanson, Swanson Dental, 2423 Willis Ave., Perry, (515)465-5170.