Dental Fillings: Types, Safety & How They Work
The “hole” story about treating damaged and decayed teeth
Dental fillings restore a damaged tooth to its normal function and can repair cosmetic problems. During a filling procedure, the decayed part of the tooth is removed, the area is cleaned and the dentist fills in the tooth with a hard substance.
Reasons you may need a filling
How a dentist determines it’s time for a filling
- Visual exam: If your teeth are discolored or have obvious problems, your dentist may be able find cavities simply by looking at your teeth. But if further inspection is needed, a metal tool called an explorer may be used. An explorer will expose decaying enamel by sticking in it.
- Decay dye: Once rinsed over your teeth, the dye will adhere to decayed tooth surfaces and stay away from non-decayed areas.
- X-rays: X-rays are a popular way of detecting decay and may help your dentist see cavities that can’t be observed through other methods.
Popular types of tooth-filling material
- Amalgam: This is a metal-based dental filling, and is the most researched, tested and widely used dental-filling material. According to the American Dental Association Research Foundation, it’s the “strongest and most durable direct restoration for large load-bearing restoration on posterior teeth.”
- Posterior composite: This is a resin-based dental filling that is tooth-colored.It is cosmetically appealing, but more expensive than amalgam.
Sign in to your My Account to see what types of fillings are covered under your plan.
Amalgam (“silver”) fillings and safety
Over the years, there’s been a lot of discussion about the safety of amalgam fillings. Here’s what’s known about dental amalgam so far:
- It’s the most thoroughly researched and tested dental material of all those in use today.
- It contains trace amounts of mercury (a toxin). But when this element is bound to other amalgam components, it becomes safe for dental use.
- In 2006, government studies found no evidence that dental amalgam causes brain injury or neurological problems in children.
- Over 950 scientific and medical studies support amalgam’s unbeatable strength, safety and cost-effectiveness.
Posterior composites: The amalgam alternative
The most popular alternative to amalgam is posterior composite (tooth-colored) material. The main advantage of composite material is that it looks great because it’s tooth-colored. The flip-side? Posterior composites cost more and wear out quicker than amalgam.
Posterior composites may also release formaldehyde—a known carcinogen—as well as a number of other components questionable to overall health.
We’ll continue to monitor the latest scientific research and studies as we maintain our commitment to providing members with affordable access to quality oral health care benefits.
Want to learn more about taking care of your mouth?