A dental filling is the most common restorative procedure we usually receive in our dental visits. Fillings, as the name makes clear, fill the parts of teeth that are damaged by cavities as a result of tooth decay or by cracks, and fractures. Dentists repair and restore our teeth with fillings using different materials available. Today we will explain composite fillings, a popular dental filling material liked by many because of its cosmetic white color.
What are composite fillings?
Composite fillings are a tooth-colored dental filling material made from composite resin. It is the combination of the resin matrix, silane, and inorganic filler materials of glass and quartz. Composite fillings can be used in both back and front teeth.
Composite resin is superior in esthetics and beauty, making it the material of choice, especially for visible areas of dental restorations. People like composite because it has that desired natural white color that they feel comfortable with.
As composite veneer, composite resin is also a popular cosmetic alternative to more invasive porcelain veneer procedure, in order to treat teeth imperfections and mask stained and discolored teeth.
Composite fillings are also durable and resist well against wear and tear over the years, although not as metal amalgam fillings.
Composite fillings procedure
Your dentist makes sure you are ready to get the filling after doing necessary assessments and other pre-operative work. They can take X-rays and check for signs of pulp damage, which you might need a root canal before your composite filling treatment.
This is what you can expect during your composite filling procedure:
- Your dentist first numbs the area around your tooth that needs filling using local anesthetics. They can apply a numbing gel before the anesthetic injection.
- After that, your dentist drills down the remaining decayed parts of the tooth, and the area is cleaned and dried thoroughly.
- They will then apply adhesives to the filling area of your tooth. This is to bond the composite filling material to the surface of the tooth.
- Next, the composite resin material is applied layer by layer to the prepared area. For each layer, the dentist will use UV light to activate and harden the material.
- Finally, your dentist shapes, trims, and polishes the composite filling. The dentist will remove the excessive edges, smoothen out the surfaces, and do all finishing work to create a desired shape and shade that aligns with the remaining natural tooth.
Look at this short animated video to get a glimpse of the composite fillings procedure:
Pros and cons of composite fillings
The advantages of composite filing outweigh the disadvantages, and you should know both sides.
- Invisible and natural-looking. Composite comes in many tooth-colored shades which blend in well with the natural enamel color
- Durable. Composite resin is wear-resistant and more durable white filling, although much recommended for small-to-mid-size fillings.
- Multifunctional. Composite resin has many functions in treating teeth imperfections, from tooth bonding to restoring chipping, or as veneers to coat discolored teeth.
- Great bonding to the structure of teeth. Composite fillings are adaptable to the tooth structure and easily bond to teeth. They protect teeth since composite resin bonds well at micro level to the surface of teeth.
- No thermal irritations. Unlike amalgam, composite resin is plastic and doesn’t expose you to irritating temperature changes when eating or drinking something hot or cold.
- Less invasive. Composite fillings tend to be less invasive than amalgam fillings. This is due to the nature of the composite resin procedure that requires minimal drilling of the natural tooth to be placed.
- Not as long-lasting as amalgam and gold. They don’t last as long as amalgam and gold, the metals fillings which last for decades.
- More expansive than amalgam. Composite fillings can cost more than amalgam’s price.
- More chair time and technique sensitive. Placing composite fillings can be done in one dental appointment, but it can vary depending on the number of teeth that require fillings. Also, composite increases your chair time compared to amalgam fillings because it is technique sensitive. Composite fillings placement requires more dentists ‘skills and precision which affects your treatment time.
How long do composite fillings last?
Typically, composite fillings can last between 5 and 8 years. If well taken care of, you can have your composite fillings even after 10 years.
Dental amalgam fillings outperform composite fillings in longevity. Amalgams are more durable and last longer, but this silver-colored fillings will not make a good cosmetic look.
Generally, fillings, whether composite or amalgam, tend to be durable when you practice good oral hygiene and follow maintenance tips. Poor oral health accompanied by a poor diet leads to the development of dental caries or tooth decay. This, in turn, decreases the life span of your fillings.
How much do composite fillings cost?
On average, composite fillings can cost between $90 and $250 and are $30 to $40 higher than amalgam. The price can reach several hundred dollars depending on the size of cavities, the number of teeth treated, the location of teeth, and the dentist’s pricing.
Does insurance cover composite fillings?
A filling is a routine dental procedure, and most dental insurance plans may cover the entire or just a portion of the price of the treatment.
It can be possible that your insurance considers composite fillings as cosmetic. Therefore, the coverage may include just conventional amalgam. In this case, you have to pay the difference out of pocket. However, you can find your own dental insurance plan which can have more coverage and packages to offer. You normally have to pay a monthly amount to the insurer company in exchange for the benefits of covering your dental work.
Other alternatives to composite fillings
There are other types of fillings that a dentist can offer.
Amalgam is another common filling material which has been used for years in dentistry. It is well-known for being cheap and highly durable. The process of amalgam fillings placement is relatively easier. However, its usage is fading because of no tooth-color and lack of natural-looking characteristics.
According to the American Dental Association, amalgam is considered “safe and effective.” There is still no scientific evidence about the negative effects of mercury exposure in the amalgam material among certain groups of people.
Gold fillings are among the most expensive restorative materials and they sound like luxury fillings. Dental filling with gold can last up to 20 years. Since gold fillings are made away in the lab and later should be cemented in the filling place, it may require multiple visits.
Porcelain, a type of ceramic, is another tooth-colored filling option. It is the material of choice in inlays and onlays, a filling method involving more tooth removal and lab work. Porcelain fillings are also a long-lasting material with a median lifespan of 15 years.
They are stain-resistant and require at least 2 visits to be placed. Also like gold high in price, porcelain fillings are more expensive than composite resin.
Glass ionomer is another white filling option but with less durability. Due to brittle and intolerance characteristics under wear and tear, glass ionomer is not frequently used as a general filling material. It is mainly applied in specific situations on some teeth. Glass ionomer is a biocompatible material, and it releases and absorbs fluoride, which is a great advantage to fight tooth decay and prevent cavities.
Frequently asked questions around composite fillings
No, treating any filling is done under anesthetics. Dentists will numb the area around your tooth. Therefore, getting a composite filling is completely pain-free, and you don’t have to get anxious about that. Follow what your dentist recommends both before and after the procedure to have a much more comfortable treatment.
You can receive composite fillings for both front and back teeth. You can benefit from the invisible and white color of composite for front teeth, just as for back ones. Composite fillings are durable and will give you a beautiful smile for years. However, for larger cavities with possible extra chewing or grinding pressures, dentists may recommend a metal amalgam filling.
Composite resin fillings are a widely used type of restorative material with many advantages. They look natural, bond well to the tooth structure, can be repaired easier, and are durable. Today, composite is the preferred option for all groups of people, including adults, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and patients with allergies to metal.
In case of severe teeth grinding habits, bruxism, or under excessive chewing pressures, composite fillings tend to wear down and get damaged. Thus, you may be better off with metal fillings like amalgam to withstand these pressures. Or, if esthetic is not your concern, amalgam can be fine.
Composite fillings, like any other dental work, do not respond to teeth whitening. Don’t try to use any unusual home options to whiten the composite fillings. Instead, visit your dentist for possible solutions like professional teeth whitening on other natural teeth, and repairing or polishing the filling.
Dentists will normally advise you to have teeth whitening before your filling treatment. This way, all your teeth will stain similarly, and if you have a visible composite filling, it decreases the uneven contrast with other natural teeth.