Medical Devices

Alternatives to Dental Amalgam

Other materials can also be used to fill cavities caused by dental decay. Like dental amalgam, these direct filling materials are used to restore the biting surface of a tooth that has been damaged by decay.
Your dentist can discuss treatment options based on the location of cavities in your mouth and the amount of tooth decay.
The primary alternatives to dental amalgam are as follows:

Every restorative material has advantages and disadvantages.

Composite Resin Fillings

Picture of a tooth with a composite resin filling. Composite resin fillings are the most common alternative to dental amalgam. They are sometimes called “tooth-colored” or “white” fillings because of their color. Composite resin fillings are made of a type of plastic (an acrylic resin) reinforced with powdered glass filler. The color (shade) of composite resins can be customized to closely match surrounding teeth.  Composite resin fillings are often light cured by a “blue-light” in layers to build up the final restoration.

Advantages of composite resin fillings include:

  • Blend in with surrounding teeth
  • High strength
  • Require minimal removal of healthy tooth structure for placement

Disadvantages of composite resin fillings include:

  • More difficult to place than dental amalgam
  • May be less durable than dental amalgam and may need to be replaced more frequently
  • Higher cost of placement

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Glass Ionomer Cement Fillings

Glass ionomer cements contain organic acids, such as eugenol, and bases, such as zinc oxide, and may include acrylic resins.  Like some composite resins, glass ionomer cements include a component of glass filler that releases fluoride over time.  Also like composite fillings, glass ionomer cements are tooth-colored. The composition and properties of glass ionomer cements are best suited for very small restorations. Unlike composite resin fillings, glass ionomer cements are self-curing and usually do not need a “blue light” to set (harden). The advantages of glass ionomer cements are ease of use and appearance. Their chief disadvantage is that they are limited to use in small restorations.

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Page Last Updated: 01/27/2015
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