Hudson Valley Top Dentists 2011: 5 Reasons Why Going to the Dentist is Easier, Safer (And Less Painful) Than Ever
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#5: INVISIBLE FILLINGS
Gone are the days of enduring the ugliness — and, some say, possible health risks — of a mouthful of metal fillings. Nowadays, tooth-colored composite fillings can take the place of the clunky-looking silver that has been used for more than a century to fill cavities in teeth.
Many dentists now offer both types of fillings. So patients often have a choice — metal or “invisible” — when heading to the dental chair. Some folks opt for one or the other, or a combination; others prefer to have metal fillings replaced by the newer technology. Here’s a primer on the two alternatives.
Also known as metal or silver fillings, traditional silver amalgams are usually a combination of mercury, silver, tin, copper, and sometimes other metallic elements. The upside: silver amalgams are quite durable (especially when used on back teeth, which we rely on for chomping and chewing), and they have a long history of “tried-and-tested” use. Also, dentists who practice general dentistry don’t require additional training to work with this technique, and patients appreciate that silver fillings generally cost less than tooth-colored options; they’re also often covered by dental insurance plans.
Metal fillings do have drawbacks. For some patients, it’s mostly a matter of aesthetics. And while the metal material itself is quite durable, some dentists say these types of fillings — especially if they’re large — weaken a tooth’s structure, leaving it more susceptible to breakage.
The biggest objection in recent years has been the controversy over possible health risks from mercury in the mouth. Many who argue against using metal fillings (which are generally comprised of about 50 percent mercury) warn of a host of potential health risks, ranging from psychological and neurological problems to birth defects, if mercury should leak into the body over time. The American Dental Association’s current official stance is that “the major U.S. and international scientific and health bodies... have been satisfied that dental amalgam is a safe, reliable and effective restorative material.” Meanwhile, the debate continues.
On the other hand, mercury-free, “invisible” fillings have several pluses, in addition to what some see as the potential health benefits. Made of composite resins (such as glass particles and a setting ingredient), they’re the same color as teeth and hence, more attractive. They usually require less removal of tooth structure, so a smaller hole is required for fillings. They’re less sensitive than metal, reducing that “ouch” sensation when sipping hot or cold liquids, for instance. They also bond right to the tooth, enhancing its strength.
Disadvantages include a higher cost: more-extensive training is needed by a dentist to work with white composite fillings, and the materials used are pricier, too. Cost can vary considerably, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $150 per silver filling; composites may range from roughly $150 to $250 per tooth, depending on the dentist. Also, some dental insurance won’t cover “invisible” fillings. And while it’s impossible to predict how long a filling will last, some experts say the lifespan of a white composite usually runs about seven years; metal fillings tend to last about 12 years.