A filling replaces part of a tooth that has been lost because of decay or through accidental damage. Fillings can be made from various materials. Your dentist will advise which material is most suitable for your treatment.
Amalgam fillings are silver in colour and contain a mixture of mercury and other metals. Amalgam is very strong and lasts a long time. Amalgam is normally used on the biting surfaces of molar and premolar teeth as it can withstand the force from chewing. Although there has been some concern over the safety of mercury, the British Dental Association (BDA) and the UK Department of Health have both concluded that, after many studies and reviews, there is no evidence of increased risk of adverse effects from the use of amalgam fillings. If you have any concerns, please talk to your dentist.
Composite (white) fillings
Composite fillings come in a range of shades to match the colour of your tooth. Composites can be used to repair front teeth and smaller chips on any teeth, providing the area can be kept dry for the procedure. Composite material is not as hard wearing as amalgam and so is not as suitable for back teeth. Although stronger composites are now available for back teeth, these are more expensive and so cannot normally be offered under the NHS in place of amalgam. NHS patients can choose to pay privately for a tooth coloured filling if it is not available from the NHS.
Glass ionomer fillings
Glass ionomer fillings are also tooth coloured but the material is fairly weak and so its use is normally limited to baby teeth or small areas on non-biting surfaces, such as at the neck of the tooth.
Inlays and Onlays (lab-made fillings)
An inlay covers a small area within the biting surface of the tooth, whereas an onlay covers a larger area of tooth. They are made of metal or porcelain and need to be made at a lab by a dental technician then cemented into place. This type of filling is more expensive but is very hard wearing.
For more information on fillings, click here to visit the British Dental Health Foundation website.