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Dental Composite Fillings

| August 1, 2015


Tooth-Colored Fillings Can Dramatically Enhance
The Appearance Of Your Teeth

By Judy Latta

Even if you brush with fluoride at least twice a day, floss regularly, and avoid sweets, you can still develop oral health problems that necessitate dental filling treatment. If decay or injury has compromised the structural integrity of your teeth, you may need a filling to repair the damage, stop the spread of decay, and restore your healthy smile.

The good news is that in the past few decades, modern dental medicine has made tremendous strides and now offers many options that are both effective and natural looking for treating dental decay and injuries. In the past, damaged teeth were typically treated with metal mixtures known as amalgam fillings. These fillings, however, had several aesthetic and functional shortcomings.

More recently, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), “Advances in modern dental materials and techniques increasingly offer new ways to create more pleasing, natural looking smiles. Researchers are continuing their often decades-long work developing aesthetically attractive materials, such as ceramic and plastic compounds that mimic the appearance of natural teeth.” Many people now opt for tooth-colored composite fillings over traditional metal fillings.


Metal/Amalgam Fillings

The purpose of using amalgam fillings was to create stronger, more protected teeth by using very durable, rigid materials to replace tooth enamel. The enamel is the hard external layer of the tooth that consists of very tightly spaced calcium crystals.

Metal or amalgam repairs, however, had many disadvantages.

  • Metal fillings were visually unappealing. The dark color of metal is very noticeable against the white color of other teeth, and as time passes metal fillings continue to darken.
  • A substantial amount of natural tooth
  • Repairs made of rigid materials can be uncomfortable because they do not insulate the sensitive inner nerve from temperature and impact discomforts.
  • Due to the inflexibility of metal, amalgam mixtures could not be effectively bondedto the soft, sensitive, internal part of the tooth, the dentin. Because of the imperfect bond, further decay can occur under the filling.
  • Metal fillings, due to their rigidity, often crack.


Resin, Porcelain and Silica Fillings

As dental medicine evolved and cosmetic procedures exploded into the realm of modern medicine, dental researchers sought out more aesthetically pleasing alternatives for safely and effectively bonding natural-looking enamel replacement materials to natural dentin or natural-acting dentin replacement materials.

This research yielded several new options for dental fillings. Currently, the most popular of these options has been composite resins, porcelain and silica. The new and improved dental materials appear and react like the enamel and dentin of natural teeth and offer several advantages over traditional metal fillings:

  • The color of resin and porcelain fillings can be matched almost perfectly to a patient’s tooth coloring, and the feel,
    texture and function is very consistent with that of natural teeth.
  • These new procedures preserve more of the natural tooth than traditional metal fillings because composite resin can be bonded to the tooth in thin layers, therefore less of the natural tooth must be drilled away to make room for the filling.
  • The tooth’s nerve is better insulated and protected using composite substances rather than metal substances, potentially saving patients significant pain and discomfort.

According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), “Restorative dentistry recreates a tooth that not only looks natural but responds naturally too, allowing bite stress to pass through the tooth while receiving biting force.” These new fillings not only look great, they are much more durable and predictable than metal fillings, and they add structural support to the existing tooth.

As a result, many dentists choose to use these newer materials and procedures, and many people are opting to have their older fillings replaced with composite tooth-colored fillings to improve the function and feel of the repairs and to enhance their oral appearance.


Fitting Procedure

The procedure for fitting composite fillings is relatively simple and painless. After a local anesthetic is administered, the dentist begins by preparing an opening to the decayed area of the tooth using a drill, micro-air abrasion process or laser. The dentist then removes the decay. If the decay is close to a nerve, a protective liner is added to protect the nerve. Special dental materials are then used to open the pores of the dentin and to abrade the surface of the exposed enamel to promote a strong bond. Composite resin fillings are applied in thin layers and slowly built up to form the complete filling. A bright light is used to harden each layer, usually in less than a minute, before the next is applied. Once the desired repair is achieved, the filling is smoothed and polished to blend with the original tooth.

The cost of composite resin fillings is generally not significantly more than that of traditional metal fillings, and the entire process can usually be completed in just one visit to the dentist.

There are three major types of tooth repairs that can be accomplished using composite material fillings: direct, semi-direct, andindirect repairs. Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks and is best suited for specific conditions.

Direct Fillings

Direct fillings require small amounts of restorative materials to be placed into cavities resulting from decay. The resin is applied in layers which are instantly set with special lights, meaning the entire filling can be built up and repaired by the time you leave the office.


Semi-Direct Fillings

Semi-Direct fillings are for repairing larger areas. These are similar to direct fillings in that layers of resin are used, but this restoration can be removed and is set outside of the mouth. Once the filling has set, it
is then bonded to the tooth. Semi-Direct fillings can also use CAD/CAM (Computer Assisted Design/ Computer Assisted Milling) to create the inlays. This technology allows your dental professional to make a harder, more durable porcelain restoration without having to send out a mold to a remote fabrication facility.


Indirect Fillings

Indirect fillings are used when a very large or complex restoration is required. Basically, when there is not enough healthy tooth left to fill, a restoration is created to replace most of the visible tooth, or to crown it. These are more involved procedures and cannot be made directly to the tooth and cannot be placed the same day.

If you find yourself in the position ofneeding dental filling treatment, talk with your dentist about treatment options so you can determine jointly the right type of filling for you.

Dental Composite Fillings

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