When Should You Replace Metal with Composite Fillings?

It used to be the case that, if you had a cavity, your only option was to get a metal filling.

Today, however, you have a more appealing option. Composite fillings are tooth colored, and the results are so great that people with metal fillings are starting to proactively replace their metal fillings with composite ones.

It’s a choice that you should make in consultation with your dentist, who can explain the ins and outs of composite fillings and discuss with you when replacing your fillings is appropriate.

Replacement is a good option for certain patients but is something that should be carefully considered. Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of indications that it’s a good time to place your metal fillings with composites.

It’s impossible to give a definitive yes or no answer to the question of whether or not you should replace your fillings with composite ones, and the best way to decide is to discuss your options with your dentist, but as a general rule, where old metal fillings can cause a lot of issues, it might be time to consider replacing them with a new, more durable and attractive option.

All About Your Fillings

Before you make a final decision (with your dentist) about how to proceed with your fillings moving forward, it’s important to understand how fillings work and the different types of fillings available.

There are three common options for fillings: Amalgam, glass ionomers, and composite.

Amalgam fillings are composed of silver, copper, tin, and mercury. Altogether, these elements form a very strong and stable filling material. Amalgam fillings are durable, relatively resistant to wear and tear, and are slightly cheaper than other options.

Glass ionomers are tooth-colored to a certain extent. They are comprised of a mixture of fine fluoride, glass powder, and organic acid that forms a solid restorative material that releases fluoride.

Finally, composites are a mixture of finely ground glass particles and acrylic resin that produces a very tooth-like restorative material. Composite fillings are durable, resistant to fracture and other wear and tear, and attractive.

Understanding The Benefits Of Composite Fillings

Composite fillings have been on the rise since around 1995. For a relatively new development in mainstream dental practices, composite fillings have quickly risen in popularity for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, patients appreciate composites for the improvement of their dental appearance. Composites blend in with your teeth and is a drastic difference from the stark contrast of metal ones.

Composite fillings have many other advantages as well. Not only do they provide natural looking, well-blended fixes, but composites do not contain mercury, actively strengthen the tooth, and require less removal of the tooth during placement.

Because composites actually create a chemical bond to the structure of the tooth, they provide support and strength that no other filling option can.

We know from research that metal fillings do nothing to strengthen the teeth whatsoever. Thus, a metal filling essentially acts as a wedge. When you bite down on a metal filling, the force is transmitted to what remains of your tooth’s structure, which can and often does result in cracking, breaking, or chipping of the tooth.

Of course, the smaller the filling, the less likely the risk of cracks, breaks, and chips.

Additionally, metal fillings do not adhere to the tooth in any way.

Because composite fillings are bonded to the tooth, the force of chewing is distributed more evenly over the tooth. This makes the tooth significantly stronger and much more resistant to further damage.

Composites can be useful for more than just fillings as well. Composites can also be used to repair smaller-scale damage like chipped, broken, or worn teeth.

While aesthetics are the focal point of most patients understanding of composite fillings, with your dentist actually able to change and match the color of the fillings to the color of your teeth, don’t discount the many other benefits of composites.

Considering the many benefits of composites, you might think it’s time to swap out your metal fillings with this attractive and beneficial option.

Reasons To Replace Your Existing Fillings

Replacing your metal fillings for composites for aesthetic purposes is one thing, but sometimes your metal fillings need updating anyway.

Fractured teeth are a common issue amongst patients with amalgam fillings. Even small amalgam fillings can lead to fractures all around the teeth.

This is because of the amount of tooth that is removed to make room for an adequate restructuring of amalgam. Composite fillings allow your dentist to be more conservative with the amount of sacrificed tooth, and the bonding actually makes the tooth stronger.

All fillings get old at some point or another and will need to be replaced. Fillings can become loose as they age and allow bacteria to invade a tooth and introduce new decay into the tooth. If your metal fillings are getting old, it might just be the perfect time to replace them with tooth-colored composite fillings.

Since amalgam fillings are not bonded to the structure of the tooth, they can, over time lead to leakage. This happens from saliva, food, and bacteria creeping down into the margins of the filling and into the tooth, causing further decay.

Understanding The Limitations

First and foremost, before you decide to remove your fillings, it’s important to understand that no solution is absolutely perfect.

Although composites are significantly more durable than ever before, they aren’t necessarily the right choice for every patient.

Composite fillings may need to be replaced more often than metal ones. Somewhere in the realm of every seven to ten years, you will need to have your composites updated or replaced.

They may not be suitable for very large filling needs. Because of the need for composite fillings to bond to the tooth, they need a tooth with some structure and strength remaining in order to bond properly and function how they’re meant to.

Be prepared to spend a little more time in the dentist’s chair when you’re getting your composite fillings. Because of the bonding and application processes, placement can take around twenty minutes longer to set than any other filling option.

Finally, composites can cost more than metal ones. Though it isn’t much, around thirty dollars, it might amount to more depending on how many fillings you need and how often you need to replace them.

Following Through

There are a few strategies for replacing your old fillings with new composite ones. There is no one size fits all option, so it’s important to discuss with your dentist how your replacement will be carried out.

Sometimes the replacement will happen all at once, in one sitting. Other times you might take on one area at a time, breaking it up into sections to be done one at a time.

If you do decide that your best option is to replace your fillings in stages, it’s generally a good idea to place the biggest ones first as these are the ones that are known to cause more problems.

As with any fillings or dental care in general, you may experience some pain and sensitivity when you replace your metal fillings with composites.

Sensitivity following placement of fillings of any kind is common. Your tooth may be feeling sensitive to pressure, air, sweet or salty foods, and temperature.

Sensitivity usually resolves on its own within a few weeks. While you are experiencing sensitivity, try to avoid those things that cause pain or discomfort. Though ibuprofen or similar can provide some relief, stronger pain relief medication is not usually necessary.

If your sensitivity does not subside within a few weeks (between two and four), or if your pain and sensitivity are increasing discomfort, contact your dentist. Your dentist may recommend treatments such as desensitizing toothpaste or agents, or, if the scenario is worst-case, you may be in need of a root canal procedure.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, whether you replace all of your fillings at once, whether you replace them a little bit at a time, or whether you decide to replace them at all, it depends on how proactive you want to be about your fillings.

Some people want to upgrade to the more attractive option as soon as they possibly can, and others avoid the dentist as long as they can, often until they are in a significant amount of pain (please visit your dentist at least twice a year!).

Switching your old metal fillings for composite ones can be very beneficial in that it will improve the appearance of your teeth, the strength of your teeth, and it can even be more cost effective in the long run because they result in statistically fewer “big picture” problems like cracks and hidden cavity growth.

We all want to show our best smile to the world, and studies show that a healthy smile can build self-esteem and increase our happiness overall!

So whether you’re trying to improve your smile through better-looking fillings or through important daily habits like flossing, good luck! And keep smiling!

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