For many decades, people knew the limitations of metal amalgam fillings, but didn’t really have good options to replace them. Now, though, modern technology has given us what some might think are too many options.
When it’s time to get a filling, you can to choose between tooth-colored composite fillings and ceramic ones, often called inlays and onlays. Both are tooth colored, and both are good options. So how do you make the decision? Here are four questions to ask to get a good idea about which is the best choice for your filling.
How Big Is the Cavity?
One place to start is just getting an idea about the size of the cavity. If the cavity is small, then composite fillings work great. They’re very durable and they fit easily in small spaces without having to remove much natural tooth material–and we want to preserve your natural teeth whenever we can.
But with larger fillings, composite might not be the best choice. In large fillings, composite has to be layered in numerous steps, curing after each step. And even with this approach, the filling may not completely cure, leaving them soft. With large fillings, you’re more like to have pressure sensitivity related to composite fillings. Ceramic fillings are the best for larger cavities. They provide strength and can resist pressure to help you avoid cracking and sensitivity.
Is This a New or Replacement Filling?
If this is the first time you’ve gotten a cavity in this spot, composite fillings work well. They can easily fit into the space and provide a tight seal.
But when it’s time to replace old fillings, you may want to lean toward ceramic fillings. Especially if you’re replacing metal amalgam fillings. Replacement fillings are more likely to be larger, but there may also be weakening around the filling. Thermal expansion of metal amalgam fillings can cause cracks in the tooth, which makes it more important that you strengthen the tooth.
How Strong Are Your Teeth?
There is great natural variation in the strength of our teeth. Some people have naturally stronger teeth than others. But even if you developed strong teeth, you may also have weakened them through exposure to acidic foods and beverages.
Naturally strong teeth don’t need extra reinforcement so composite fillings are a good choice. But if your teeth tend to be weak and prone to chipping and cracking, it may be best to select a filling that will help reinforce them. Ceramic fillings can provide more strength than composite fillings.
How Visible Is the Filling?
All tooth-colored fillings look great when they’re placed. Composite fillings may be mostly plastic, but when they’re polished, they gain a tooth-like luster so that no one will be able to tell they’re not your natural tooth. But tooth-colored fillings don’t always stay attractive. Like your natural teeth, they can get stained by foods and beverages. But they don’t respond to teeth whitening, so it’s possible that if you expose your teeth to stains, composite fillings might not be best in a highly visible location. And even if they don’t get stained, composite fillings can lose their polish, which means they won’t have the luster of natural tooth enamel. This is a subtle difference, but for some people it matters.
Ceramic fillings, on the other hand, don’t just look good when they’re placed–they can look good for life. They resist stains, even if you’re a heavy coffee drinker. And because they’re strong and resistant to acids, they maintain their polish.
Find a Dentist You Can Trust
Of course, you don’t have to make this decision alone. You’ve got a partner whose expertise in dental procedures and dental materials make this decision easy. This is one of the decisions where you should be able to trust your dentist’s recommendation for which is the right filling.