Dental amalgam (silver filling) was used to fill cavities for more than a century until questions about its safety were raised because mercury, a known toxin, constitutes half of the mass of the filling. Since mercury vaporises in the mouth, the fumes are inhaled and absorbed into the body, causing diseases ranging from depression to cancer kidney disease and Alzheimer’s.
Silver filling became popular because it was a strong material, could be placed easily and was far less expensive than gold, the other traditional alternative. With safer alternatives available, some countries such as Sweden and Germany have passed laws to stop or greatly curb the use of mercury-silver fillings. Their nationalised dental plans even help to pay for removal and replacement of silver fillings with non-mercury materials.
Silver fillings costs between R800 and R1,000 per cavity and has a life of 10-15 years.
Far safer alternatives are available. Porcelain, glass and composites are the new materials that fix a tooth along with restoring its function and natural appearance. These restorations feel and wear like natural teeth, returning tooth strength to 80 per cent or more!
The cost of a composite starts at R1,200, with high-density ones that last longer priced at RS3,000 or more. The life of a composite filling is between seven and 10 years. Apart from safety, the other benefits are:
Since they bond to the tooth, composite fillings restore most of the original strength of the tooth. Unlike silver that weakens the tooth, making it susceptible to breaking, composites are less expensive in the long run.
Composite fillings restore the natural appearance of the tooth as they come in many shades to match the rest of your teeth.
Teeth restored with white fillings are less sensitive to heat and cold than teeth restored with amalgam, provided, of course, that the right technique is used.
Using composites involves less damage to the tooth structure. If the cavity is a new one, the size of the hole made to accommodate a filling is dramatically smaller when composites are used.
Dr Kakar is a senior consultant orthodontist at Apollo Hospital.