Gold? Porcelain? Something else? Feel free to discuss and consider all the filling options with your dentist before drilling begins.

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If you've ever had a chipped, abscessed or broken tooth, you know how bothersome it can be. It's difficult to eat, it's sometimes painful and you can't seem to stop exploring the affected area with your tongue. Without a complete set of fully functioning teeth, there's not much to smile about. Oh, and your smile is affected, too.

For thousands of years man has been exploring ways to maintain his choppers -- and that means filling cavities in those teeth. Archaeological evidence even indicates that people were drilling holes in teeth as far back as 7000 B.C. [source: Namibian Dental Association]. Researchers don't think the drilling was done for decorative purposes because the not-so-pearly whites found in a graveyard were molars. No one knows for sure if the drilling was done to stop the decay of the teeth or for some unknown mystical purpose, but the profession of dentistry has been around a good, long while.

Cavity filling, which prevents a tooth from further erosion and decay, has evolved as new substances have been tested for the actual filling material. In the early 1800s, dentists would simply roll a substance between their fingers until they had a tiny ball which could be jammed into the troublesome hole. Everything from lead to tin and aluminum was used [source: Glenner and Willey]. Some substances were too difficult to mold while others were too soft to last. Other fillings like lead, mercury and asbestos created health concerns.

Today, dentists have further refined the cavity filling process. Fillings are typically made to match the color of your teeth. But there's an ongoing debate about whether the more visually appealing fillings are truly the best option for patients [source: Newell]. There's also the issue of cost.

Ironically, the "gold standard" for insurance companies is silver. We'll explain what that means and delve into the side effects of cavity filling on the next page.