White and Silver Fillings: A Little History, A Little Education!

A large part of every dental practice is dental fillings.  The same is true in our office.  At each professional cleaning we examine every filling to determine its integrity.  A large percentage of my time is spent placing new fillings or repairing old ones.  The majority of you as patients have experienced having one or more fillings placed.  I thought it might be interesting to you to examine the history of dental fillings and the differences in the types of fillings available.

Ancient dentists used materials as diverse as cork, turpentine, gum, lead and stone chips to restore decayed teeth.  Then in China in 659 AD dentists began experimenting with using silver as a material to plug unwanted dental holes. After experimenting with many formulations over the years, in the early 1800’s a French dentist named Louis Regnart added mercury to the mix, creating the first version of the modern-day silver filling, known as dental amalgam.  The formula was so controversial that when two other Frenchman known as the Crawcour Brothers first introduced it in the United States, they were run out of the country!

Eventually the formula was perfected and it became the material still in use today, which we typically call “silver fillings.”  Most Americans who visit the dentist on a regular basis (especially those of us over thirty) have a few of these gems in our mouths. 

Lately some groups have pointed out that mercury can be a very unhealthy thing to have in your body, and have actually called for all of these fillings to be removed.  While it is true that in large quantities mercury is toxic, after extensive studies, the American Dental Association had concluded that there are no significant health risks to using this time-tested material. 

However, we feel it is important to point out two major differences between these traditional silver amalgam fillings and the more modern tooth colored materials. 

A silver filling does not actually bond to the healthy tooth material; it is kept in the tooth by placing the material using a wedge effect.  So, while it may do a good job of replacing a decayed area in your tooth, it also weakens the tooth and makes it more susceptible to cracks and fractures.  This often leads to more extensive treatment such as a crown, which covers the tooth completely.  For this reason, we are extra careful to check these fillings closely during your examination for any signs of breakdown. 

On the other hand, a tooth colored filling (known as a “composite”) actually bonds to the healthy tooth and creates one big, strong, healthy tooth unit.

The other major difference is obvious – a composite filing is a beautiful, almost invisible way to treat a decayed tooth while an amalgam filling looks black.  We’ve all noticed someone with a great smile but when they open their mouth it shows dark, unattractive fillings.

So, keep brushing and flossing well, eating a healthy diet and getting regular dental visits, and maybe you will never have to worry about this!  But should you have a “cavity” we will be glad to discuss all of the options with you and work together to figure out the best way to treat your individual situation. Our goal is to provide treatment that is strong and beautiful too!  At the office of Bruce Sexton DDS, we always recommend the absolute best options to suit your needs and keep your mouth healthy for the rest of your life.

Thanks for reading!

Dr Bruce

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