If you’re over 60, you probably can still remember the days of full-service gas stations. You’d pull in, and a perky guy would run out and ask you what you needed.
“Fill ‘er up with regular,” you’d respond. Then you’d sit back while the young guy filled the car and cleaned your windshield while he was at it. He may even have checked your tire air pressure if you asked.
Ah, those were the days…
That line may be history in the context of gas stations, but it’s not for us here at Gentle Dental. We simply think of your teeth and “filling” a tooth.
You may know them as “cavities.” But the actual term for dental decay is caries. The word cavity is a misnomer. Once we remove the decay in a tooth a cavity has been created, but it doesn’t accurately describe the decay/dental caries.
Still, that also explains where the term “filling” came from. Once we remove the decay and create the cavity, it has to be “filled.”
We do this stuff every day at Gentle Dental. But fillings are changing.
Types of fillings
If you’re over 40, odds are you have at least one or more silver fillings in a molar or two. Surprise, they’re not silver, they’re mostly mercury! That is disconcerting to many people. Silver fillings are made of silver amalgam. To make them, we mix mercury (50% of the eventual filling) with a powder comprised of silver, copper, tin, or zinc (usually a combination of some or all of those). There isn’t any potential for harm from the mercury in your amalgam fillings. They’ve been studied by the FDA, and they’ve been used since the 1800s. Still, some people don’t like the idea of being like a fish at the bottom of a river near Newark.
- Composite fillings are becoming more and more popular because they’re very close to tooth color, so they are invisible once placed. The resin is made of a mixture of plastic and glass. The problem with composite fillings has been durability. But every year, the technology advances and these tooth-colored fillings become more durable. They are beginning to last almost as long as amalgam.
- Ceramic or porcelain fillings have the admirable quality of being durable and having high aesthetic value because their color can closely match the natural color of the patient’s teeth. They are more expensive, but resist staining and aren’t easily scratched as composite resin can be.
- Glass ionomer fillings are made of a combination of acrylic and glass. They are intended for children’s baby teeth because they only last five years and release fluoride to strengthen the surrounding natural teeth.
- Gold fillings used to be popular, but not so much anymore because they are very visible and expensive. They are very durable and non-corrosive, but it’s probably best to leave the gold fillings to your Grandpa Abe in Paramus.