In America, there’s probably a select group of people who’ve never had a dental filling in their life. The chosen few, as you will. The rest of us had to trot ourselves to the nearest dental office to get all the gross stuff drilled out and filled. (Or our parents did it for us, at least.) You could say a dental filling is a rite of passage. The gold star of the time we ate too much candy and got a lot of cavities in the process. But no matter how many times we get them, there’s still a lot we don’t know about them. Take this, for instance: what’s the difference between white and silver fillings? And what are they in the first place?
White and silver fillings are basically composite and amalgam
If you’re worried there’s some new dental innovation you’ve missed out on, don’t despair. White and silver fillings are pretty much another name for composite and amalgam. And as you might’ve guessed, they get it from their colors. So if you find yourself in the dental office scrambling for some answers, don’t despair—you’ve got them right here.
Of course, there is a marked difference between white and silver fillings. An obvious one is what they’re made of. Composite fillings are usually made with ceramic or plastic—hence, the white color. Amalgam ones, on the other hand, are a combination of different metals. (Thus, the name and color.)
This difference in material also affects how the filling is placed. Silver fillings tend to harden faster. So if you have a particularly pesky cavity underneath your gum line, they’re the option for you. White fillings, on the other hand, don’t have this advantage. For the most part, you can only put these on cavities you can actually see. (Or, in the case of your back molars, the part of your tooth that’s visible.)
Beyond these two, however, what other differences do amalgam and composite fillings hold?
Amalgam vs. Composite: Pros and Cons
Sometimes, to know the difference between two things, you need to pit their strengths and weaknesses. Not that you need reminding—we have plenty of experience doing that. Subconsciously, it’s the default way we make a decision. Particularly when we’re out to buy stuff. And if the purchase in question is a dental filling, there’s all the more reason to compare.
The age-old rivalry of amalgam vs. composite fillings, in a way, all boils down to principle. People typically get composite fillings for the same reasons: they’re pretty to look at and contain no metal. The latter, in particular, has traction among a particular group of people. (You can learn more about metal-free dentistry here and here.) But while a composite filling will make your teeth look like they never had a cavity in the first place, they’re also less durable. You might need to take multiple trips to the dental office to re-fill your cavity. And the worst part? You’re also more likely to get tooth decay again.
Amalgam fillings, on the other hand, aren’t as pretty and can contain some questionable substances. Mercury, in particular, is one ingredient that’s moved chunks of people to shake off metal restorations altogether. But while silver fillings do contain mercury, they’ve already bonded to other metals, neutralizing any harmful effects. They’re also less expensive and are usually covered by insurance as compared to composite fillings. Of course, if you do find that you’re allergic to any of the metals in this type of filling, you might want to consider other options.