Composite resin is a plastic-based tooth coloured filling material that has been used in dentistry for about 40 years. These materials are constantly being improved, and their colour, strength, and bond to tooth has vastly improved in recent times.
Previously, dentists preferred to place amalgam (metal) fillings in back teeth due to their strength and predictability. Nowadays, composite resin is a popular alternative due to its natural appearance.
Composite resin is available in a wide range of colours and can be closely matched to the natural colour of your teeth. It is bonded onto the tooth using a series of strong adhesive agents. During placement, the resin has a soft putty-like consistency which can be sculpted and moulded. It is then hardened by a blue light which sets the filling to full strength within a matter of seconds.
Composite resin can be used to fill both front and back teeth. The term ‘Bonding’ is sometimes used when composite resin is placed to restore the surface of teeth – usually to correct defects such as chips, gaps, surface irregularity or discolouration.
Like any material, composite resin does have limitations and is generally not recommended for very large restorations. In instances where composite resin is not suitable, tooth coloured alternatives include porcelain veneers, ceramic inlays, onlays, and crowns.
Dental amalgam is a metal alloy consisting primarily of silver, tin, copper and mercury. It is a strong material that has been used to reliably fill teeth for well over a century. Due to its unaesthetic grey/silver appearance and the improvements in composite resin technology, the use of amalgam is declining.
Prior to placement of an amalgam filling, the components are contained in a capsule and are mixed together for a few seconds by a specialised machine. The resulting mixture is soft and can be placed into the cavity and shaped – this then hardens over time. Unlike composite resin, dental amalgam does not bond to tooth.
In recent years, concerns have been raised over the safety of dental amalgam as it has been claimed that small amounts of mercury can be released from the amalgam over time and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Research has shown that the amount of mercury released by amalgam fillings is negligible, and to date there has been no conclusive evidence to prove that dental amalgam leads to health problems. The current stance of the Australian Dental Association is that dental amalgam is safe to use.
If you do not wish to have any amalgam restorations please discuss this with one of our dentists. We recognise that many people prefer to have tooth coloured restorations, and use these materials as an alternative to dental amalgam whenever possible.