Technology is wonderful. But the thing about technology is that it continues to evolve. Forms of toothbrushes have been around for over 3000 years, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the toothbrush that we are familiar with came into existence. I can tell you that brushing with frayed twigs in ancient Babylon was probably pretty progressive, but if you were to do that today, you’d be looked at with curiosity. Why? Because the toothbrush as we know it is different. It is more comfortable, durable, and effective.
We digress. The point is that technology changes to make lives easier and, usually, better. Fillings are another perfect example of advancements in dentistry. Dental amalgam is a mixture of metals used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. Also known as “silver fillings” due to their silver color, they were first used in 659 AD. The metal mixtures have changed over the years. Still, according to the FDA, today’s silver fillings are made of approximately 50% liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper.
The Challenge With Silver (Amalgam) Fillings
Dental amalgam fillings work because they are long-lasting and durable. They are so strong that teeth will wear down and crack, while the amalgam will remain, like an island, on your tooth. Over time, the edges of a silver filling can wear down, become weak, or break. This results in the tooth not being protected, leading to new cavities developing. Plus, with age, the metal of a silver filling expands, contracts, and can even split.
The tooth naturally has some flexibility, while amalgam fillings are rigid. Because the materials flex at different rates, the tooth structure will start to crack and wear down over time. How long does that take? Depends on the person. If you grind or clench your teeth, it will happen sooner than if you didn’t because of the pressure and loading factors on the tooth. But amalgam fillings typically last 20-40 years before things start going south.
And even if you were diligent with brushing and flossing your teeth, they will still likely begin to crack and eventually break. The more tooth structure that is lost, the more aggressive the repair. Dr. Andy recommends not waiting until your teeth hurt to get help. If you do, you will probably need a root canal or extraction. Dr. Andy sees many patients in their 50s who had fillings in their 20s and now need them replaced.
Advancing Dentistry with Composite Fillings
A perfect segue into another advancement in dentistry – composite fillings. First introduced in the 1960s, composites evolved into the material predominately used today. Composite material mimics a natural tooth and comes in a wide range of shades to match the color of the existing teeth. While there’s nothing like a mouth full of metal to reveal how many cavities you’ve had in your younger years, most people would prefer not to look like they’ve had cavities if they don’t have to. That’s why many couples get their fillings replaced before their wedding. Pictures can last multiple lifetimes, you know?
This brings us to a common concern about amalgam fillings. Because they are partially made of mercury, there are concerns about safely removing the material. Living Dental Health uses a special suction device called an Isovac to safely suction aerosols released during removal. The icing on the cake is that this device decreases treatment time.
If you have silver fillings, do you need to have them replaced asap? Not necessarily. As mentioned, they are durable. But they don’t last forever. If you’ve had your fillings for 20 or more years, it may be time to explore getting them replaced. And hopefully, you are seeing your dentist every six months so they can monitor the health of your tooth structure. A good dentist will look for weakened enamel and make recommendations for remedying it before it becomes a bigger problem. We’d love to talk if you have questions about amalgam and composite fillings. Contact us by giving us a call at 541-550-5311 today.