Many patients are asking our dentists about white fillings because they want their teeth to have a more pleasing, natural looking smile. White fillings, which are made from tooth colored materials, blend well with the natural color of your teeth. They don’t look like metallic fillings.
One type of material used for white fillings is a composite resin. Composite resins are mixtures of plastic and glass, which are blended to match the natural color of your teeth. Composites can be used to restore decayed areas, to replace previous restorations, and also for cosmetic improvements of the smile (see bonding page). Since they blend well to natural tooth enamel, our dentists may recommend composites if the teeth needing restorations are near the front of the mouth.
Composite fillings can usually be placed in one office visit. The tooth is first prepared by removing the decay. The dentist may place a band around the tooth and the area is isolated from saliva during the restoration. An adhesive is placed in the tooth followed by thin layers of composite resin, using a special light to harden each layer. The final layer is shaped to the natural contours of the tooth, and then polished.
The main advantage to composite fillings is the similar appearance to natural teeth. Another advantage is that they require the removal of less of the healthy part of the tooth to hold the filling in place. The composite material bonds to the tooth to support the remaining tooth structure.
One disadvantage to composite fillings is that they tend to wear faster than silver fillings when placed on the chewing surfaces or in larger cavities, although in smaller cavities they hold up as well as silver fillings. The composite filling can stain or discolor slightly over time. If you prefer, our dentists can place a clear plastic coating over the composite material, to protect the color. The fee for composite fillings is higher than the fee for a silver filling and the price difference is not always covered by insurance companies.
Porcelain Inlays and Onlays
Another type of material used for tooth-colored fillings is porcelain inlays and onlays. Inlays and onlays are used to restore teeth that are badly damaged by decay or wear. They may be used on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth when tooth colored fillings are desired.
Inlays and onlays require two or more visits to your dentist to complete, for diagnosis and treatment planning, preparation and bonding. On the first visit the dentist will remove the decay and take an impression of the teeth. The porcelain material is made by a dental lab, and then bonded to your teeth in a subsequent visit.
Since the placement of porcelain materials require two visits and outside lab services, porcelain inlays and onlays are more expensive than other filling materials, but porcelain is highly resistant to wear. Porcelain can be brittle, and may fracture under heavy biting loads, if the restoration is too thin. Often more of the tooth will have to be removed than for composite fillings.
White fillings, like other restoration materials, may require periodic replacement. Tooth decay may develop around the filling or on another location on the tooth. Regular dental checkups are important, because they allow our dentists to detect any problems early.