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Tuesdays with the Team


What’s the difference between an Amalgam (silver) filling and a Composite (resin/white) filling?

It has been years (many of them in fact) since I have seen amalgam used in a dental practice. There is a controversy over the potential adverse effects of silver fillings, which are close to 50% mercury and a mixture of silver-tin alloy and copper. Although mercury is toxic, it has been thought that it was not released to the body.

Recent research, however, seems to show that these fillings release a very small amount of mercury vapor during chewing. Whether or not this amount is harmful is the subject of the controversy. While it has not been proven that it is harmful, there is no proof that it is not harmful, either. Use of the amalgam filling goes back hundreds of years; while early history of the composites goes back to the early 70’s with improved technology developed to bond the filling in the ’80’s.

The definition of “filling” is: replacing and restoring tooth structure that is removed due to decay or fracture with a material. The cheapest, and potentially most toxic choice for fillings are the silver-tin, alloy, copper, and mercury that sets up hard and silver-colored. While it is possible these fillings may last longer than composite fillings, they may also lead to tooth fracture, discolored teeth, and an inability to blend in aesthetically. On the other hand, composite fillings are primarily a resin that has been “filled” with other inorganic materials. This compound makes a composite more resistant to wear, color adjustable, and easier to polish. The advantages to the composite include a more natural appearance, strengthening of the filled tooth, and bonding to the natural tooth to create a better seal.

Most insurance companies will not cover the white (resin/composite) fillings on back teeth and hence, substitute payment for the cheaper amalgam. Why? Your insurance company is a for-profit company; they are in business to make money. Composite is expensive to place (up to 25% more), and the policy of the insurance company is to cover the cost of the least expensive treatment which happens with a lot of procedures, not just fillings.

Unsure if your insurance company will “down code” to the lesser restoration? Call your Carson City dentists today at (775) 400-2533, and let one of our friendly staff members do research on your individual mouth to find out what Advanced Dentistry by Design can do for you!

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