Cavity Filling

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

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.


Side Effects of Cavity Filling

For insurance companies, silver has become "the gold standard" since most will pay the price of a silver filling, but if a patient chooses a filling option that costs more than silver, he or she may have to pay for the remainder of the bill [source: WebMD].

A dentist won't typically ask you what kind of filling you would like. (It's not like picking an item from a menu.) But maybe your dentist should ask you.


Composite fillings that match the color of your teeth don't last as long as substances like cast gold [source: Newell]. Often, they only last about five years, while fillings made of ceramic or gold can last 15 years or more [source: WebMD]. That's a side effect that could cost you money and time.

Silver fillings are cost-effective, and they tend to last a decade or more. However, in a very limited number of instances -- about 1 percent of patients -- an allergic reaction can occur [source: WebMD]. In addition, in 2008 the American Dental Association issued a statement regarding silver fillings which are often referred to as amalgams. The ADA warned that, while there is no direct evidence of dangers, amalgams contain mercury which "may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing fetuses and children." The FDA also recommends that pregnant women discuss the potential for harm with their doctors [source: WebMD].

The dentistry profession -- including cavity filling -- has come a long way since its inception. Getting a cavity filled is a common and typically safe process. But, ultimately, you are the patient, and you have the right to discuss and consider all the options with your family doctor and your dentist.

For more information on cavities, fillings and other dental practices, visit the links and resources on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Glenner, Richard A., DDS and P. Willey, PhD. "PFA -- Dental Fillings in the Confederacy: Journal of the History of Dentistry/Vol. 46." Pierre Fauchard Academy. (Jan. 22, 2012)
  • Namibian Dental Association. "Dental History." (Jan. 22, 2012)
  • Newell, Joseph F. "Why Gold in an Era of Cosmetic Dentistry?" (Jan. 22, 2012)
  • WebMD. "Dental Health and Tooth Fillings." (Jan. 22, 2012)