Do you really need to replace your amalgam filling?

When it came to dental fillings, there used to be a single option: amalgam fillings. So when composite fillings arrived on the scene, they completely flipped the script — not just because they gave people options, but because of how different they are from amalgam fillings. Each type of filling has its pluses and minuses, but today’s dentists will generally recommend composite fillings if you have a cavity. You may have even heard that you should replace existing amalgam fillings with composite fillings. Is there any truth to this assertion, and why would you need to replace your filling? To get to the truth of the matter, we’ve put together a guide on amalgam fillings.

Amalgam vs. Composite Fillings

Although amalgam and composite fillings both fulfill the same job in much the same way, they’re very different. Amalgam fillings are often called “silver fillings” because they’re made from a mixture of metals, one of which being silver. This makes them durable enough to last an average of 10 to 15 years if they’re cared for with a regular, thorough oral hygiene routine. Since they’re made from metal, however, amalgam fillings are very visible in your mouth. Even when they’re placed on your back teeth, they’re still noticeable when you speak or laugh. In contrast, composite fillings are made from a ceramic and plastic resin. This resin is durable enough to last 10 years or more with good oral hygiene and can be tinted to match the color of your natural teeth, allowing it to blend in with your smile no matter where it’s placed. No one will know the filling is even there!

While amalgam fillings are made of a harder, more durable material, they aren’t as flexible as composite fillings. As you chew, composite fillings have a very small amount of give, similar to that of a natural tooth. Amalgam fillings don’t do this, which can put stress on the filling and the tooth around it. They also expand and contract in response to changing temperatures, which can crack your tooth or cause the filling to fail over time. Composite fillings don’t react to temperatures, so they put less stress on your tooth over time. Additionally, while the process to place composite fillings takes a little longer than placing amalgam fillings, it doesn’t require Dr. Tyler to remove as much healthy tooth material. However, amalgam fillings are less expensive than composite fillings and have been used successfully for decades, so they’re still a good, budget-friendly option if you need a cavity filled.

Signs You Need to Replace Your Metal Filling

If your metal filling isn’t old and is still in good shape, you don’t need to replace it unless you want to improve the appearance of your teeth. As the filling ages, however, it’s wise to replace it if it’s showing signs of wear and tear, ideally before it begins to fail or crack your tooth. It will also need to be replaced if it’s putting too much stress on your tooth. Cracks in your tooth, cracked fillings, or filling failure aren’t always visible to the naked eye, but visiting Dr. Tyler every six months for regular dental checkups can help ensure that any problems with the filling will be spotted early. Once a year, he’ll take an X-ray of your teeth to check for signs of small cracks or decay that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Even if you can’t see the signs that your amalgam filling is failing or cracking your tooth, you may be able to feel it. Cavities beneath the filling or small cracks in your tooth will likely hurt or may cause sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures. If the tooth with the filling starts causing you pain, it’s best to schedule an appointment with Dr. Tyler to check on it.

What can happen if you don’t replace them?

When your amalgam filling begins to show signs of wear or failure, it’s important to take steps to replace it right away. Fillings that are failing or putting too much stress on your tooth can cause the tooth to crack or break. Since bacteria can slip beneath a cracked or slightly open filling, where it’s impossible for you to clean, a cavity can form there relatively quickly. Strangely—and fascinatingly—another reason you might need to replace your amalgam filling is due to the development of a metal allergy. This isn’t common, but our bodies change as we age, and some people do develop new allergies. If you develop an allergy to metal, you’ll need to switch to a composite filling to relieve the symptoms of an allergic reaction, which could include rashes and itching.

While amalgam fillings are an effective and budget-friendly way to treat cavities, they can fail and begin to harm your teeth over time. Thankfully, if you keep an eye on them with regular dental appointments, you should be able to spot any potential issues early and address them by replacing the filling. If you have any questions about your amalgam filling or are experiencing symptoms that could indicate it’s failing, feel free to call and schedule an appointment with Dr. Tyler at any time.