Thanks to technological advances, dentists and patients today have several choices when it comes to selecting materials to fill cavities.
Among the choices are natural tooth-colored materials such as composite fillings and more traditional dental fillings such as those made of metal amalgam.
Aesthetics are the main advantage of composites, since dentists can blend shades to create a color nearly identical to that of the actual tooth. Composites bond to the tooth to support the remaining tooth structure, which helps to prevent breakage and insulate the tooth from excessive temperature changes.
In addition to having a more pleasing and natural tooth-like appearance, composite fillings have the potential advantage of not containing mercury or other metals that may contribute to sensitivity or toxicity.
Much of the concern over the safety of amalgams arises from the use of mercury as a bonding agent. But when mercury is combined with other materials in dental amalgam, its chemical nature changes, rendering it harmless.
Mercury toxicity from amalgam fillings is a controversial subject, though no research to date has been able to show any risks of having mercury as a component of amalgam dental fillings.
However, many patients do have metal sensitivities and some have reported a metal taste after the placement of amalgam fillings.
Furthermore, composite materials often require less tooth preparation and may not weaken the affected tooth as much as amalgam fillings, which often require more extensive tooth preparation.